My elementary school was about 5 blocks from my house, so I'd walk to school every day. In the fall one of the pleasures of the walk was stomping chestnuts. My sisters and I would walk by several large horse chestnut trees and in the fall the prickly fruit would litter the sidewalk and we'd kick them and stomp on them to reveal the lovely nuts within.
I loved the beautiful, glossy nuts inside, but was sad to learn that they couldn't be toasted and eaten, and the gorgeous glossy exterior of the nuts withered and faded over time. I know because I'd kept a handful, thinking to make them into jewelry or something cool. Hey, it was the 60's - it would have been cool! Possibly groovy as well.
My daughter came over the other day with some eating chestnuts. A neighbor of theirs has a huge tree and is only too happy to have volunteers remove the prickly guys. I had never seen the eating kind of chestnut inside it's prickly casing. It's lots spikier (or, porkier, as my son says) than it's horse chestnut cousin. Having never baked with chestnuts, I was challenged by my daughter to come up with something that really showcased fall flavors, so I got busy.
My cookbooks were remarkably silent on the question of what to do with fresh chestnuts. Most of the recipes used chestnut cream. Hmph. I roasted the chestnuts and peeled them, then inspiration struck. What if I could make them into a chocolatey spread? Chestnut + chocolate = delicious, right?
I adapted an online recipe for making your own Nutella and ended up with....creamy chocolatey goodness with a subtle hint of chestnut? Um, not quite. A dough ball that looked like a giant turd. It appears that chestnuts have a lot less natural oil than hazelnuts. It tasted ok, but the chestnut was very subtle, and no one was going to want to spread this on their bread. So now what?
I figured that I could add the chestnutella as a flavor layer in a bar cookie, so went back to the cookbook stash and found - ta da!- pumpkin pie bars. I rolled out the chestnutella ball into a 9 x 13 sheet, pressed it onto the crust layer, and added pumpkin pie on top. And just to thumb my nose at the calories, I added a struesel topping that sank into the pie layer as it baked.
The verdict? Thumbs up from all the judges! I don't know that I'll want to do all this work on a regular basis, but as a special occasion, welcome Fall cookies, this fits the bill perfectly.
Chestnutella Pumpkin Pie Bars
- adapted from America's Best Recipes
2 cups toasted, peeled chestnuts*, about 10 oz
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp vanilla
* to roast the chestnuts, remove the prickly outer layer wearing thick gloved. Cut a small x into the mahogany skin of the nut. Lay the nuts in a single layer on a shallow baking pan. Toast at 350 degrees F. for 8-10 minutes, until the skin peels back from the x.
1-Place the cooled chestnuts into a food processor and process for about 5 minutes till it turns into a fine meal. With regular nuts this would give you a butter, but because the chestnuts don't have as much oil, you'll just get a fine meal that holds together when pinched.
2- Add the sugar, cocoa, and vanilla. The mixture should now clump into a ball. Drizzle in the vegetable oil.
3- Wrap your ball in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it.
Pumpkin Pie Squares
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats, uncooked
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 recipe of Chestnutella at room temperature
2 cups cooked, mashed pumpkin
3/4 cup sugar
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Whipped cream, for serving
1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.
2- Combine the flour, oats, and 1/2 cup brown sugar in a medium bowl. Cut in 1/2 cup butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Press the mixture into an ungreased 9 x 13 x 2- inch baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes.
3- While the crust is baking, place the Chestnutella ball between two sheets of waxed paper and roll it out into a 9 x 13 -inch rectangle.
4- Combine the pumpkin and the next 7 ingredients (through the cloves), stirring well.
5- When the crust is done cooking, remove it from the oven. Carefully peel the top layer of waxed paper from the Chestnutella. Invert the rectangle over the pan and press it into place. Peel off the other layer of waxed paper. Trim off any excess and press any tears in the layer to seal them.
6- Pour the pumpkin mixture over the Chestnutella layer. Bake for 20 minutes.
7- Place the 1/2 cup brown sugar in a small bowl; cut in 2 Tbsp butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in pecans. Sprinkle over the pumpkin mixture. Bake an additional 20 minutes or until set (a small amount of jiggle is OK, but not wobbly in the center).
8 - Cool and cut into squares. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream, if desired. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator.