I have been cooking with chestnuts a lot this winter and while telling my mother about my triumphant puree de marron filled doughnuts, we got onto the subject of a frozen chestnut pudding she used to make for Christmas back when we were kids. Lighter than the traditional pudding, it was studded with marinaded dried fruit, sweetened with chestnut puree, it was a real family favourite. She used a clipping from (quite possibly the Radio Times) with the recipe on and it was a sad day when that precious piece of paper got lost and we stopped making the nameless pudding. Buoyed by nostalgia and Google, we looked up frozen chestnut pudding in the vain hope of finding something similar and were thrilled to discover that we had been making a dish called Nesselrode Pudding and that our festive dessert was sorted for this year.
This is a Victorian era pudding named for a MittelEuropean Count and was fabulously popular in those days, showing off expensive luxury items to full effect on Christmas Day while keeping some of the tastes of a British Christmas such a dried fruit and brandy. It relies on the flavours of sweet chestnuts and brandy to end the feast in style and we were delighted to have the chance to re-visit this classic family favourite!
As is my wont I immediately started fiddling with and tweaking the recipe when I saw that it required the faff of roasting and peeling 40 chestnuts and the more unusual Maraschino brandy to flavour it, deciding to use chestnut puree and good old cognac instead and swapping the dried currants and sultanas for sour cherries and blueberries since no one in our family is a big fan of raisins. Apart from that, the rest of the ingredients are the same, but I halved the quantities since we weren’t planning on inviting half the city round for dinner.
I have never made an ice cream or frozen custard before, so I was a tad nervous embarking on such a thing for the most important meal of the year, but was heartened to find that this is relatively straightforward to make. I roasted off about ten fresh chestnuts in the oven, peeled them and pounded them up with a pestle and mortar to add some texture to the dish before blitzing up the puree with the sugar syrup to make a thick paste that would blend easily. I then combined this with double cream and six egg yolks and brought it to the boil over a bain marie to make a thick custard. This is simple, but takes forever. I stood slaving over a hot stove for about an hour waiting for this momentous event to occur. I felt like I had witnessed the birth of Christ when it finally happened.
The bowl came off the heat and was left to cool for a few hours while the dried fruit was soaked in brandy overnight. I added a big slug of this to the custard once cooled and left it to refrigerate overnight. Next day, I stirred in the plumped up fruit, whipped some more double cream and marvelled at how long it takes to whip egg whites to soft peaks even with an electric hand whisk and then folded the cream and egg whites in to fluff up and aerate the pudding before popping it in the freezer overnight. Nothing about this was difficult, just fairly organised and needing done in advance so you aren’t whisking egg whites in the wee hours of Christmas Day and scaring Santa away with the noise…
It was chilly enough here at Christmas that I could have frozen this stunning pudding outside in the garden, but went traditional instead and used the freezer, popping a plate over the bowl to make it easier to turn this out to serve. I would have preferred to put this in a jelly mould to make it look fancier, but I didn’t have one about my person unfortunately. It wasn’t particularly necessary as the pudding slid out of the bowl with ease, looking utterly triumphant on its plate.
It tasted pretty triumphant too! It had a lovely ice cream texture that was deliciously refreshing after the main meal. The chestnut puree added sweetness without being cloying while the brandy added just enough of a kick to clear the palate nicely. The boozy fruit were little nuggets of chewiness that added some much needed texture to the soft surroundings, like the best bits of the Christmas pudding, but without the heaviness it brings to the day. Slices of unadorned Nesselrode pudding went down much easier and with more enthusiasm than I’ve ever seen for plum pudding in our house as it tasted very like the chestnut creation we remembered from all those years ago.
This is a Christmas pudding you could make as stylish looking as you wanted, using a ring mould or individual ramekins. It’s surprisingly easy to make if you don’t mind spending a little bit of time a day or two ahead making doing the various steps. It comes into its own on Christmas Day when you can’t be bothered to start steaming puddings, heating custard and working out who actually likes brandy butter. Simply upend onto a plate, sprinkle with cocoa or douse in whipped cream and serve in slices. It’s a sleek and stylish end to the Christmas feast that deserves a comeback! Those Victorians knew a trick or two…