It has been a few months since I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and cook with Mimi Thorisson in her home in south-western France. I find myself frequently reminiscing about the recipes we cooked, what we chatted about while we were sitting at her vast dining table, and the recipe notes which I exchanged with the other ladies in the workshop. I think often of her impossibly beautiful children with their impeccable politeness, not to mention their envious appetite for everything their mother would put before them.
As I look back on my time at the Manger Workshop, it becomes apparent that it has had more of an impact on me than I had first thought, but in a way which I hadn’t expected. Mimi had a calmness to her which was very appealing, particularly in light of the fact that her children would frequently flit about her with their small demands (like most children do), yet Mimi still found a way to put her children at ease whilst, at the same time, conduct a workshop for a bunch of strangers loitering in her family kitchen.
These days, when my children attempt to rupture my zen whilst I am trying to get myself sorted in the kitchen, I find myself briefly pausing and asking myself, “What would Mimi do?” First, maybe Mimi’s children wouldn’t be flat out on the kitchen floor, taking up valuable real estate in our tiny kitchen, and hysterical because they want pasta and I am cooking rice. But it is nevertheless reassuring to have a role model to look up to; the day my children beg me for foie gras on toast (which I witnessed Mimi’s children doing), I will know that I have achieved something!
I think something Mimi and I have in common is our love for sweetened chestnut cream. During her workshop, she showed us how to make a very rich, but very simple, chocolate chestnut cake which contained a tin of this favourite ingredient of ours. The cake was dark and moist, almost like a pudding, and several in our group recreated this cake for Christmas dinner recently.
I was all set to make this cake one evening when I came across Mimi’s latest blog post which had a recipe for a Vanilla Chestnut Cake. I was instantly reminded of a cake which my aunt used to make often whenever I visited her in Basel, a city in the north-west of Switzerland which borders with both France and Germany. I have some memories of eating a chestnut cream loaf cake with bars of (Lindt) chocolate served alongside. It wasn’t a fancy cake, by any means, but it evoked happy memories.
And Mimi’s Vanilla Chestnut Cake is utterly delicious and addictive. I took the liberty to add dark chocolate chips to the cake, and my family and I finished the cake in almost one sitting. I think they will, too, have happy memories of this cake. There is just one slice left, and I am claiming that for my breakfast tomorrow.
- 4 eggs, separated
- 500 g (18 oz) sweetened chestnut cream
- 80 g (1/3 cup) unsalted butter, softened
- 55 g (1/2 cup) plain flour, sifted
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- pinch of fine sea salt
- 50 g (1/3 cup) dark chocolate chips
- icing sugar, for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
- Whisk the eggwhites until stiff peaks form.
- In a separate bowl, beat together the egg yolks, sweetened chestnut cream, and butter.
- Gently mix through the flour, baking powder and salt.
- Gently fold through the eggwhites, a few large spoonfuls at a time, through the cake batter. Take care not to lose too much air.
- Once all of the eggwhites have been added to the cake batter, gently fold through the chocolate chips.
- Grease a small Bundt tin with butter or a non-stick baking spray, and dust with flour. Tip the Bundt cake over the sink and shake out any excess flour. (Note: I used a Bundt tin with 750 ml / 3 cup capacity).
- Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Leave the the cake to cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes before gently removing the cake from the tin.
- Leave the cake to cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar before serving.
For most plain cakes, I like to use a fancy cake tin to make them more special. Here, I used a small Bundt tin with 750 ml (3 cup) capacity. If you don’t have a Bundt tin, you could, of course, bake the cake in a 21 cm (9 inch) round cake tin. The cake might take less time to cook in a normal round cake tin as it is not as deep as a Bundt tin, so start checking with a skewer after 35 minutes or so.
If you can’t find sweetened chestnut cream near you, you could try to make some yourself, provided that you can find pre-cooked chestnuts (whether frozen, tinned or in vacuum-sealed packs). My recipe for Mont Blanc Pavlova contains instructions on how to make your own sweetened chestnut cream.
Share your photos!
If you have tried this recipe, I would love to hear how it turned out! Please leave a comment below and share your photos on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter using #eatlittlebird