Austrian Chestnut Cake

Today, a guest post by Martha (her others are here, here, here and here.)

This recipe comes from Robert Carrier’s Kitchen part 17 (series published by Marshall Cavendish 1980-81). I bought this gem from a market stall in Camden Passage, Islington, just metres from where its author opened his eponymous restaurant in 1959. The stall boasted several titles from the series and I have to confess it was hard to choose only one. My goodness, the pictures! The chicken apparently roasted in candle wax! The prawns as garnish! The tomato skin roses!

Celebrity chef and ‘bon viveur’* Robert Carrier OBE (1923-2006) was the first to print his recipes on practical wipe clean cards. So indirectly we have him to thank (?) for Alison Burt. Good work Bob!

After success in the restaurant industry, in PR and as a food writer, Carrier burst onto the colour TV screens of the seventies. He was famous for his camp and ebullient delivery style as well as his American accent and foreign recipes. He, shall we say, contrasted rather with his monochrome and… er… thrift-conscious predecessor Fanny Cradock.

A notable feature of Carrier’s recipes is that he doesn’t stint the cream or the booze. So it is here. Of course an Austrian cake should be full of cream and booze so this is only proper.  The other recipes in the pamphlet are full of glamorous exotica such as melon baskets and chiffonade dressing. There’s also a section on Chinese food, dissection of which deserves its own post so will be saved for a later date.

Recipe – serves  12

Butter for greasing
6 medium -sized egg yolks
175g / 6 oz castor sugar
700g / 1 ½ lb canned unsweetened chestnut purée
75g / 3 oz finely ground almonds
25ml / ½ tbls dry breadcrumbs
10ml / 2 tsp vanilla essence
8 medium-sized egg whites
250ml / 9 fl oz thick cream
30ml /2 tbls brandy
12 glacé chestnuts (marrons glacés)

1.       Heat the oven to 180C / 350F / gas 4 and butter a 23cm / 9 in cake tin.
2.       In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks with a wire whisk or rotary beater until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat thoroughly.
3.       Add the chestnut purée to the egg yolk mixture, mixing well. Stir then beat in the ground almonds, breadcrumbs and vanilla essence.
4.       Whisk the egg whites until the form stiff peaks. Using a large metal spoon, carefully fold the egg whites into the chestnut mixture.
5.       Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smoothing the surface with the back of a spoon. Place the tin in the oven and bake for 1½ hours or until the skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
6.       Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 15 minutes. Then remove it from the tin and place it on a wire rack to cool completely. 
7.       In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk the thick cream until stiff. Fold in the brandy to taste.
8.       Not more than 1 hour before serving, place the cake on a serving plate. Spread the cream over the top of the cake, making 12 decorative swirls with a flat-bladed knife. Alternatively pipe the swirls using a small piping bag fitted with a 5mm/ ¼ in star nozzle.  Arrange a glacé chestnut in each swirl. Serve as soon as possible.

This is a most impressive cake, which makes a marvellous dinner party dessert.

Not wishing to sound like Mrs Cradock, but chestnut purée is damned expensive and of course it doesn’t come in 700g tins nowadays.  I had to get two 435g tins instead and I am on the lookout for something else to make with the leftovers. Stuffing perhaps. Chestnut purée looks unappetisingly reminiscent of cat food without the ghastly smell, and I have to say I’ve given myself a jump coming across it in the fridge a couple of times since making this. Having forked out for the purée I couldn’t bring myself to buy the marrons glacés as well, so my cake is decorated with fudge sprinkles. I know. I was upset about it too.

This recipe proved yet again that I am rubbish at separating eggs. Certainly when there are eight of them and not all straight from the hen. I managed to taint the whites with yolky globs on several occasions and was well prepared for them not to get to stiff peaks as a result. By some miracle, I was wrong and they stood up nicely. Good show, I thought to myself.

While we’re on the subject of whisking, two further thoughts. 1) I’m not sure what the point was of whisking the yolks at the outset. They didn’t fluff up much and were flattened immediately by the chestnut. A waste of bicep strain. 2) Whipping cream is a lot more fun than whisking egg whites, isn’t it? It’s much quicker and the consistency change happens all at once as if by magic. Whereas with the whites one stands at the counter, testing and re-testing, massaging ones forearms and muttering that if it doesn’t go in a minute it’ll just have to be bloody soft peak and lump it.

I was suspicious of my ability to fold in the egg white without battering  the air out of it but that seemed to go ok. I lined the bottom of the cake tin and was glad of it afterwards. The top of my cake was not very smooth in spite of my attempts with the back of the spoon. I had forgotten that having all its air whipped into it, this cake would not rise any further and smooth out the bumps. Thankfully plentiful icing covered this up.

Adding brandy to whipped cream ‘to taste’ is a dangerous activity that may require extra cream or extra brandy. Or both.

My living arrangements (solitary) led me to think that it would be a bad idea to leave this entire confection in my fridge.  I would either eat it all before it went off and make myself sick. Or fail to eat it all before it went off and make myself sick at heart. I do have friends who I could invite over to help of course, but even so…

So I took the monumentally grown up decision to quarter the cake before icing it and freeze all but a quarter. I will let you know in the comments how the de-frosted portions do.

I disobeyed utterly the serving instructions and iced the cake well in advance then left it in the fridge overnight. This didn’t seem affect it adversely.


Your regular poster Elly came over to taste it with me and our joint verdict was a follows:

Me: The cake itself is not a very nice colour but then chestnuts aren’t a very nice colour. But it tastes delicious. Moist and smooth and very rich.  It’s almost bordering on a mousse.

Elly: Damn fine!

So there you have it. A most impressive cake indeed.

*One assumes Wikipedia is being euphemistic here.

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11 responses to “Austrian Chestnut Cake

  1. Veronika (cluedo) @whosgotnoclue

    Do you whip your egg whites & cream manually?? Wow. Impressed.

  2. Yum!
    Very rich though I would think?

  3. Yes – modest slices all round!

  4. Impressed that you decided to make the full-quantity recipe and then quarter it for freezing. I feel a little queasy just reading Carrier’s ingredients. Chestnut puree is also sold ready sweetened, so one could omit the sugar. The result is likely to be sweet enough.
    Egg yolks alone don’t whisk up much, but if sugar is added they’ll foam thickly (e.g. zabaglione, Swiss roll); you’re right about the wasted effort.

  5. @Veronika I am a tough mama! Also my own tough mama always whisked her own and I think I just see that as normal.

    @Salada It isn’t at all sickly or over-rich in small doses. It’s actually very nice and quite subtle. And it keeps well in the fridge. It is of course very moist so it doesn’t dry out. I don’t think when I started it I realised quite how huge the finished product would be. Funnily enough I looked at pre-sweetened puree but that’s even more pricey so no point.

  6. Oops that should read “whisks her her own” my mama is still well and whisking. I just haven’t been in the kitchen with her while she does it in years!

  7. You’ve convinced me about the richness! I’ll try it, sometime.
    Re my Swiss Roll example – this is made with whole eggs, of course, but behaves much as yolks’n’sugar would when whisked long and hard.

  8. Just to confirm freezing did this no harm at all. 🙂

  9. Can you tell me if there is a recipe for scones in the Robert Carrier volume you found? Am trying to hunt down an old recipe that was a favorite of my Dad’s, which came from this series, but I’m not sure which book it was in!

  10. Sorry – I’ve checked and there isn’t a scone recipe here. Good luck with your search!

  11. Scone recipes are ubiquitous in general cookery books. What was so special about R.C.’s version?