Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in Boston during the winter months knows the man on the Common selling roasted chestnuts from his cart. The aroma hits you as you walk past and, despite the blazing cold winds, instantly warms every inch of your body. With just its scent, you experience the joys of those sweet, buttery treats.
With Christmas quickly approaching, chestnuts have been springing up all over the blogosphere. I’m quite impressed by all of the creative ways people have used them. But it was this recipe for Roasted Chestnut Cookies that popped up on Smitten Kitchen a couple of weeks ago that inspired me to pick up a bag of them at Whole Foods.
Now, there are some cookie recipes that I’ve tried that are very labor intensive and the results, unfortunately, are less than stellar. Others, however, are labor intensive and completely worth the time, the energy, and any frustrations that may come with them. This is one of those cookies.
The first challenge in preparing these was roasting and peeling the chestnuts. A lesson to all: don’t just gently score the shell with the knife… pierce them. I found the ones with a nice, healthy incision to be the easiest to work with.
Lesson two, let the chestnuts cool a little before cracking them open. I even put them in the fridge for a little bit so I wouldn’t burn my hands.
Once I got past this stage, the cookies were quite easy to make. The dough consists of just a couple of ingredients (mostly butter and sugar) and it can all be produced in a food processor. Of course, as Deb mentions, it’s not required… but I can’t imagine doing all of this by hand.
These are great cookies to make for a party (you get quite a few of them out of the dough), served by a roaring fire and a cup of [spiked?] hot chocolate. They are, in a nutshell, the perfect holiday cookie.
Roasted Chestnut Cookies
(From Smitten Kitchen, Adapted generously from Epicurious)
Smitten Kitchen’s Note: “My main changes to the classic formula, aside from the chestnuts, were to add some spice, salt, give instruction to make a smoother, easy-peasy dough in the food processor and to warn about the baking time. These cookies can go from “holy buttery chestnuts!” into the dry territory with just a little overbaking. Better to err on the side of caution.
I also encourage you to start with a whole pound of chestnuts, although you’ll only need about 2/3 of them, because chestnuts are notorious for surprising you, once roasted, with rotten centers. If you’ve got a winning batch (as I did), you get a little to snack on and everyone wins.”
Makes about 4 dozen 1-inch cookies
1 pound chestnuts
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon + additional for coating
A few gratings of fresh nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups all purpose flour
Preheat oven to 450°F. Cut a small X on the top of each chestnut with a very sharp knife. Don’t be afraid to cut into the “meat” of the chestnut a little; I found that the the ones that were the most easy to peel start with a deep enough cut that the skin peels back while roasting. Roast chestnuts on a baking sheet for about 20 to 30 minutes, until a darker shade of brown and the X peels back to reveal the inner nut.
Cool on tray and then peel. Don’t worry if they break up as you do so if you have to dig them out in pieces, you won’t need whole ones for this.
Once the peeled chestnuts are fully cool, chop them coarsely on a cutting board. Measure 1 cup of chopped chestnuts, and dump them in the bowl of a food processor. Grind them until they are very well chopped, then add the softened butter, and pulse again until combined. Add 1/2 cup of your powdered sugar, vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and flour and pulse until an even dough is formed.
[No food processor? Chop-chop-chop those chestnuts as fine as you can, then use an electric mixer to whip the butter and 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Add the vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, flour and chestnuts and beat until well blended.]
Divide dough and wrap each half in plastic, chilling for one hour or until firm. Once chilled, preheat the oven to 350°F. Whisk remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and a few pinches of cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside. Working with one half of the chilled dough at at time, roll it into 2 teaspoon-sized balls (I use my 1 tablespoon measure, but didn’t fill it) in the palm of your hand. Arrange on parchment-lined baking sheet but no need to leave more than 1/2 inch between the cookies; they won’t spread.
Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 14 to 17 minutes. (See Note up top about baking times.) Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Gently toss warm cookies in cinnamon sugar to coat completely. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough. To touch them up before serving, you can sift some of the leftover cinnamon-sugar mixture over them.
Do ahead: Dough can be chilled in the fridge for a day or two, longer in the freezer. Chestnuts can be roasted in advance, kept at room temperature for a day or so. Cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a week.