Come, woo me, woo me; for now I am in a holiday humor, and like enough to consent. – William Shakespeare
I love the holidays. Halloween comes and goes swathed in orange and black, tiny marzipan jack-o’-lanterns and chocolate skeletons dancing across supermarket shelves and shop windows. Thanksgiving arrives sharp on its heels in a burst of cooking energy; a cornucopia of seasonal fruits and vegetables just making their bold appearance on market stalls give themselves up to casseroles, cakes and side dishes; table tops strewn with crisp fall leaves in burnished gold and sepia and red, the color of the evening sky where tiny Pilgrims stand in wooden severity. Then swoosh we are swept away in a Winter Wonderland of sparkle and brightness, swags of tiny colored lights and the twinkle of stars against inky black; the crinkle of shiny paper and the romance of frilly bows lure and entice, spirits mellow and warm amid the glow of candlelight and the vibrant sizzle of latkes, the festive songs and Champagne cheer.
Merrily we rush into Christmas and New Year’s Eve when the sparkling Crémant de Loire (this year replacing the Champagne!) flows and the food is abundant, even if just for the two or the four of us. After the usual grumblings about the burden of familial expectations, consumer madness, and religious indifference, the ambiance quickly returns, albeit quietly, to mirth and good cheer. This year is different than holidays’ past; we now must infuse the hotel ambiance with festive joy. We still spent a month debating the degree of hoopla and revelry, deliberating budget and desires, negotiating decoration of reception and terrace on a scale from austere to ostentatious. Jean-Pierre had already dug through the cartons of old ornaments that came with the hotel, tossing out withered wreaths that disintegrated to dust between his fingers, garlands of bulbs that refused to light, knotted ribbons and exhausted plastic trees twisted and wan. Pinecones spray painted silver and gold became kindling for the morning blaze in the dining room chimney. He salvaged boxes of tiny wooden figurines, glass balls in glossy gold and red, a few tinseled garlands not yet wasted and tired, and refused to buy anything more. The receptionists signed, more resigned than disenchanted, as I think that they quite enjoyed being surrounded by festive flash and swagger. I, needless to say, was sorely disappointed, but decided that I could very well play elf and sneak down and add a few baubles and crowns myself.
As I flew off to Florida, Jean-Pierre purchased a fir tree, as I cleaned out my childhood home in preparation for its sale and spent time with my mother, family, and friends he and the girls decorated the hotel.
I am so happy to be back at the hotel, surrounded by my new family – our staff – even if our sons cannot be with us for the holidays. I will be giving Jean-Pierre – a gift from my sister-in-law – a shirt covered in garlanded reindeer and Santas on sleighs and will insist that he wear it while working with clients, and I bought myself a pair of Christmas ornament earrings, if just to put our holiday spirit on display and inspire a bit of jolliness in the hotel guests. I may hang around the tree in reception and move ornaments around when no one is looking, just so I can feel as if I have decorated the tree myself. (I did finally slip out and purchase a few more ornaments, a glittery star for the top of the tree, a jolly Santa to perch on the top of the buffet table, and boxes of foil-wrapped chocolates to place in a beautiful copper bowl on the reception desk for the guests.) It’s beginning to look a bit like Christmas…
Although back at work and the reservation book is filling up for the Christmas and New Year weekends, I may just very well bake, offer the staff and the guests staying at the hotel during the holiday season a bit of something special.
Yes, I love the holidays whether surrounded by Scrooges or by laughing elves; the spirit invades, the jingle of bells excites, the tinny notes of piped-in carols thrills as I bounce down the city streets, in and out of shops, singing along with old, forgotten tunes and praying for snow. Of course, besides the gifts, the boxes of chocolates, and the decorations, the holidays mean seasonal, festive foods and there is nothing like the sweet fresh smell of pumpkin, the weight and heft of knobbly sweet potatoes, the sweet scent of baking apples and cinnamon. I never hesitate to search out and create special recipes for seasonal treats, pies, cakes and stollen, gingerbread macarons and bûche de noël. ‘Tis the season to be merry ho ho ho.
And I made this. I once read somewhere that writers should never use the word decadent when talking about food, but if this Chocolate Chestnut Fondant isn’t decadent then I don’t know what is. ‘Tis the season for all things decadent, rich, abundant, and it doesn’t get better than this.
A fondant to some is that sugary sweet icing rolled out and delicately layered over wedding cakes or cookies. To the French, a fondant is an ethereal cake-like confection, dense and thick made with little or no flour, meltingly smooth on the tongue, its immediate burst of richness fading away leaving a delicate essence, a flavor that lingers. This Fondant au Chocolat et Marrons, Chocolate and Chestnut Fondant, inspired by an image, a recipe seen in a cookbook, is less cake than truffle, so dense yet surprisingly delicate. A deep chocolate flavor with a hint of chestnut, the fondant is just perfect as it is, better than any gooey, decadent brownie could ever hope to be. Yet with that very first mouthful I knew that I had to make this again adding a couple of tablespoons of Cointreau, Grand Marnier, or even rum for a sensational complex new layer of flavor and the kick of alcohol. And I’ll make it a third time using all salted butter for that glorious salty zing I love with chocolate. Astonishingly simple to make, four easy ingredients, this Chocolate Chestnut Fondant makes for one dramatic, spectacular holiday dessert.
- 7 ounces (200 grams) dark chocolate
- 11 tablespoons (160 grams) butter
- 3 large eggs
- 17.6 ounces (500 grams) Crème de Marrons (sweetened chestnut cream)
- 1 gently rounded tablespoon flour (omit or replace for a gluten-free version)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter the bottom and sides of an 8 or 9-inch baking dish.
- Break the chocolate into smallish chunks and place in a heatproof or Pyrex bowl with the butter. Melt in the microwave on high for about 1 ½ minutes. Remove from the oven and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture blended and smooth. Return to the microwave for quick zaps if need be. (I always remove melting chocolate and butter from the heat, whether microwave or bain-marie, before one or the other (or both) are completely melted in order to avoid burning the chocolate or overheating…. The heat of that already melted will help melt the remaining chunks while beginning the cooling down process.)
- Allow the butter and chocolate to cool to room temperature or at least tepid.
- Place the eggs in a medium to large mixing bowl and whisk or beat well until blended.
- Whisk in the chestnut cream.
- Gradually pour in the butter/chocolate while continuing to whisk, being careful not to splatter.
- Whisk in the flour.
- Pour into the buttered baking dish and bake for about 30 minutes, depending upon the size and shape of your baking dish as well as your oven. The fondant should be puffed, set in the center and cracking a bit. The surface will look matt, almost like the surface of brownies.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before serving. This is a very rich dessert and is best served in thin slices. And those who wish will be free to request seconds!