Fall is dealing her full deck of colors, and with that comes frosty breath, the season’s first shivers, winds of change, and shorter days. Cravings for warm & hearty comfort foods begin to influence menu choices just as cozy sweaters and wool socks make their way back to our drawers.
October marks the beginning of the chestnut harvest which reaches its peak in December. My husband, a professional chef, knows that fall is on for sure when he gets his annual phone call from John Harry & Dianne Pitfick of Cornucopia Farms in Purcellville telling him that the chestnuts are ready to go. He usually buys a few hundred pounds throughout the season. All of them will be blanched, hand split and peeled and then used in everything, from soups to pastas and desserts.
Pairing wine with chestnuts may be a bit unexpected but the Port-Style Chocolate Lab from Barrel Oak Winery in Delaplane is truly perfect. The winery notes that the Chocolate Lab started off as an experiment to infuse a chocolate note in a wine – hence the name “Lab”. Barrel Oak Winery, a very dog-friendly winery, adapted the “chocolate” part of its name – thereby three simple concepts in one – chocolate infused, dog friendly, and created to some extent in the “lab”, and who doesn’t love a Chocolate Labrador – works for me! The current vintage at the winery is Chambourcin grapes (a French-American hybrid). As an estate wine, one hundred percent of the grapes were grown at Barrel Oak Winery.
So how does that wine get that chocolate flavor anyway? After the wine finishes the fermentation process cracked cocoa nibs are added to the tank which imparts a subtle chocolate note. After sitting for a few days the leftover nibs are extracted and the wine is filtered and aged in American and Hungarian Oak Barrels for six months. The wine is then transferred into recovered whiskey barrels for an additional 2-3 months. This provides a hint of smoke and whisky. It has a soft richness to it, while being smooth and easy.
Now to employ this seasons chestnuts – consider the humble bread pudding of the savory sort. It’s a modest culinary endeavor that was traditionally a means for the frugal cook to use up stale bread. Akin to a blank canvas this dish is a perfect way to hype seasonal produce. While a backdrop of basil & tomatoes is perfect in the summer and leeks & onions are preferable in the spring, in the depths of autumn a bread pudding is the ideal opus for chestnuts and sage.
Using fresh chestnuts is of course the ultimate but can be a bit demanding in their preparation. If you are not able to acquire fresh chestnuts (or just don’t have the time needed to prep them) they are available in many markets canned, preserved or shelled frozen. The best way to peel fresh chestnuts is to first score them (slicing an X on the bottom) and bake in a 350 degree oven till skins peel back. Let them cool and peel with a paring knife. Rough chop chestnuts to a chunky consistency
The Chocolate Lab is light, with notes of cherries, cocoa, and a wisp of mocha at times, the wine will bring its beautifully subtle chocolate notes to the Bourbon Chestnut Bread Pudding. It’s strong enough to play with the residual Bourbon flavors and hold its own against the rich nuttiness of the chestnuts.
So buy some wine, and get cooking!
Bourbon Chestnut Bread Pudding
6-8 cups French baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 TBS chopped fresh sage, finely chopped
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup bourbon
1 1/2 cup peeled, chopped chestnuts (fresh, canned or frozen)
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 8 – 10 minutes, or until golden.
- In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and sage and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the heavy cream and bourbon. Gently fold in the bread cubes, sage and chestnuts. Season with salt and pepper. Let stand until all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 30 minutes.
- Transfer the bread pudding to a 12-by-8-by-2-inch baking dish. Sprinkle cheese on top. Set the baking dish in a roasting pan and add enough hot water to the pan to reach halfway up the side of the baking dish. Bake for 35 minutes, or until set and the top is golden brown. Let pudding set for 10 minutes before serving.
Article originally published in the October 2013 issue of Middleburg Eccentric.
Thanks to Ellen Kassoff Gray and Muse Cafe for the story and recipe! Located in the Atrium of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Muse Cafe offers handcrafted, seasonal options with a focus on sustainable and local ingredients and a number of vegetarian and vegan options—many sourced from nearby FreshFarm Market, by the White House. Created exclusively for the Corcoran, the menu celebrates the culinary arts and the local community. Members receive a 10% discount on all Muse purchases.
- Chestnuts. China. 2007. Photo: © Wu Zhiyi / World Bank.
- Chestnut tree. 2008. Photo © Kristian Mollenborg.
- Roasted chestnuts. 2011. Photo © Pauline Mak.
- Bread pudding. 2009. Photo © lmoore1118.