I recently became the proud owner of a couple of pounds of Kent chestnuts. It’s just too cold and dark to make something as predictable as a nut loaf so I was on the lookout for something more exciting. Then I remembered a recipe that I’d quickly scribbled down when visiting my friend S in Brussels – chestnut jam with tonka bean.
The mystery element here was the tonka(*). By chance (meaning “on purpose, for for the day I make the chestnut-tonka thing”) I have a jar of tonka beans at the back of the cupboard. The beans are dry, black and hard with a strong vanilla/tobacco/almond aroma. I tend to put two or three times the amount of spices in recipes as I like things to be flavourful and aromatic, but tonka seems so strong that it would be prudent to use the suggested half-teaspoon (on balance, the right call – the finished jam had a subtle marzipan-like flavour but was not overpowering).
* Tonka is prohibited for food use in the United States!
HOW TO MAKE IT
Set aside an afternoon for this – you will be back and forth to the kitchen for a couple of hours.
• 2 kg chestnuts
• 1-1.5 kg sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon ground tonka bean
Make a cross on each chestnut (removing any bad ones) and boil for around 10 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and peel off the tough outer skin.
Return the chestnuts to a pan and boil for a further 45 minutes, and then drain and peel the inner skin (again removing any bad nuts).
Weigh the chestnuts, nothing the weight, and return to a pan with cold water (for each kilo of chestnuts, add 750 ml of water).
Gently warm the mixture, bring to the boil, and then purée with a hand blender (careful, it’s hot!). At this stage, it will look a rather unappealing grey-brown translucent goo.
Now add the sugar – add the same amount of sugar as the weight of the chestnuts (or less if you prefer a less sweet jam) and the ground tonka bean. Stir well and cook for 15 minutes or until you have a thick paste which becomes firm when you put some in a saucer. Just remember that, unlike fruit jam, you won’t get a “set”. Once ready, put into sterile jars and seal.
Now enjoy the jam on crêpes, croissants or with yoghurt.
To sterilise jars: wash in hot, soapy water, and then rinse very well – do not dry them. Now place up-side down on the shelf of a cold oven, and heat to 120°C / 250°F for at least 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, and fill with the jam. Leave the jars in the warm (not hot!) oven until you need them, as the glass is less likely to crack from the hot jam if the glass is at a similar temperature. You should also sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling in a pot of hot water for five minutes.
WOULD I MAKE IT AGAIN?
All through the cooking process (a good few hours), I though “never again”. The chestnut purée was an unappealing grey sludge with little flavour. However, once the sugar and the tonka went in, the mixture transformed into the beautiful creamy confection I was hoping for and the whole house smelled of marzipan. Today I finally had some on a croissant – and the result was spectacular. This is a keeper! And S will be getting a jar next time I am in Brussels.