Monte Bianco – the perfect Christmas Treat

Finding a replacement for Christmas Pudding that is light on the stomach after such a heavy meal, and can be prepared in advance and has a little touch of luxury and celebration is never easy.  Over time we have done roulades, light steamed puddings, a crocquant-bouche, even just ice cream albeit made from Vin Santo which back in the mid 90’s, when the craze over the River Cafe was at its height,  was still quite a new wine to all of us Brits.  Meringue though always seems to feature very highly on the options which given the amount of egg yolks the rest of Christmas baking needs, especially pastry for mince pies, makes a lot of sense.

This year by accident or design I found myself making 2 very similar puddings for both Christmas and New Year. Both recipes came from the Guardian, one by Yotam  Ottolenghi  (he who is most honoured by both me and the beloved who got his Nopi Cookbook for Christmas), and the other was from on old recipe in  the Guardian by Dan Lepard who very sadly no longer has  a regular baking column column but still has a great website.

The vast amounts of egg whites, double cream and chestnut puree I still had by New Year is probably why one led to the other and it was only whist I was searching for pudding options for New Year’s Eve that I realised both were based on the Italian classic Monte Bianco.

Monte Bianco means White Mountain and is supposed to represent (from the Italian border) the tallest mountain in the Alps which most of us know as Mont Blanc and of course the Italians call Monte Bianco as well  (which leads to some tricky internet searching).  Italian puddings (other than their devil-designed bread Panettone – see my post for my reasons for saying this) tend not to be excessively complex and Monte Bianco is no exception. The classic involves piling small meringues up glued together with whipped cream, then forming a small mountain from a riced chestnut mixture, and then surrounding with whipped cream to form the final mountain shape and decorating with chocolate and marrons glacés.

The Ottolenghi version deconstructs and smartens up this classic with brown sugar, cinnamon and walnut meringue nests (a classic Ottolenghi meringue) painted with plain chocolate, with a spoonful of sweet chestnut puree on top, piled with whipped cream and topped with spiced pears and chopped walnuts. A lovely thing for Christmas Day.  I would change one thing and add spun sugar across the top as well to add an extra Christmas day glitz.

fullsizeoutput_ba6

The Dan Lepard recipe takes broadly similar ingredients and creates a layer cake with 3 discs of plain meringue, sandwiching a thick chestnut cream, drizzled with chocolate and then finally topped with more whipped cream and chestnut puree. It is less refined looking than Ottolenghi’s but equally delicious.

fullsizeoutput_ba8

Here are the recipes produced in the order I made them

Ottolenghi’s Chestnut and Spiced Pear Meringues (originating from the Guardian website)

For the Spiced Pears

  • 75ml dry white wine
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick  (though we seemed to hit a national shortage of these so 2 tsps of cinnamon works too)
  • 1 star anise
  • finely shaved skin of 1/2 a lemon
  • 20g dark muscovado sugar
  • seeds from 1 vanilla pod
  • 2 ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into eight pieces lengthwise

For the Meringue

  • 2 large egg whites (80g)
  • 80g caster sugar
  • 65g dark muscovado sugar
  • 40g finely chopped walnuts (for the meringue)
  • 40g lightly toasted and roughly chopped walnuts (to scatter on the top of the pudding
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 280 ml double cream
  • 50g dark chocolate
  • 250g sweet chestnut spread (Mr Ottolenghi recommends Clément Faugier)

The Method – Spiced Pears

  • put all the ingredients in a saucepan
  • bring the mixture to the boil
  • simmer until the pears are tender but still have a slight bite
  • allow the mixture to cool and set aside

img_3186

The Method – Meringue

  • heat the oven to 100C /  80C fan
  • line a baking tray with baking parchment with 6 cm circles drawn on them
  • put the egg white, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl
  • place it over a saucepan of simmering water (making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water)
  • whisk the mixture until thick and glossy and stands in stiff peaks
  • you now have a couple of options to make 8 nests
    • fold the finely chopped walnuts into the mixture and spread the nests in 6-7cm circles with the edge lifted up to create a lip
    • pipe the mixture into nests with a second tier to create a rim and then sprinkle the walnuts into the nest and gently press them into the mixture
  • bake for 80 minutes
  • these can be stored in an airtight container for a few days before serving

The Method – Topping

  • chop the chocolate, put in a bowl placed over a pan of simmering water and melt the chocolate
  • brush the chocolate over the top of meringues and allow to dry
  • whip the cream until stiff
  • spread the chestnut puree on the nests
  • spoon the cream to form a small hillock
  • artfully place 2 pear slices  on top
  • scatter with walnuts
  • One last change, as mentioned, I would make is possibly to scatter some spun sugar across the top as well just before serving

 

Dan Lepard’s Mont Blanc Layer Cake (originating from the Guardian website)

Ingredients

  • egg whites for 5 medium eggs
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 300g sweet chestnut spread
  • 250ml double cream – for the chestnut cream
  • 100ml double cream – for the top of the cake
  • 150g ricotta or cream cheese
  • seeds from 1 vanilla pod
  • 150g dark chocolate
  • indoor sparklers to present the cake

Method

  • heat the oven to 140C /  120C fan
  • line a baking tray with baking parchment with 18 cm circles drawn on them
    • Dan Lepard advises using tin foil marked with a circle of melted butter  if you are spreading the meringue by hand as it slips around less than paper
    • if you are piping then use baking parchment
  • put the egg white in a bowl
  • place it over a saucepan of simmering water (making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water)
  • whisk the mixture until the egg whites until stiff and frothy
  • whisk in the sugar a quarter at a time until the meringue is glossy and forms stiff peaks
  • divide into 3 and form 3 discs of meringue – either piping or spreading them onto the baking parchment or tin foil
  • bake in the oven for 90 minutes until beige with a firm crust
  • set aside to cool
  • melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water
  • spread the chocolate over the top of the discs keeping some back for drizzling later (this is a change from Dan’s recipe inspired by Ottolenghi’s as it  ups the chocolate content of cake), and allow to dry
  • whip the 250ml of double cream to soft peaks
  • add the ricotta and sweet chestnut puree, carry on whisking until stiff and thick
  • divide into 3
  • put one meringue disc on a serving plate
  • spread a third of the chestnut cream on top
  • add the second tier and spread the cream on top and then add the third layer
  • whisk the 100 ml of double cream until stiff
  • pile on top on the cake to form a peak
  • put the last of the chestnut cream into a piping and pipe around the cream hillock and meringue disc
  • drizzle the whole cake with the last of the melted chocolate
  • put a few indoor sparklers in the top light and present to your guests

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s