The other day, a friend and fellow-blogger asked an open question of his readers: do you collect mementos when you travel, and if so, what? If you’d aked me that question 15 years ago, the answer would have been a resounding “YES! How much time do you have?” At various times over my teenage and 20-something years, I insisted on collecting writing paper from every hotel I stayed in; shells from every beach I walked on; pebbles from cities I had visited, erasers from around he world, key rings, and wine-bottle shaped fridge magnets. What can I say – I was born a pack rat!! But moving from my parents home into a small 2-bedroom apartment and then moving countries kind of put paid to my ambition to collect random stuff. So when Chris asked this question, my first reaction was “no – only photographs”.
But, ah, self-delusion is a wonderful thing. It is indeed thrue that most of what I bring back from my travels these days takes up no more space than one small memory card. But one glance at my spice rack and kitchen cupboards tells a different story. “Seven kinds of salt?? Who the hell needs seven different kinds of salt?” yells my husand in frustration. “Pistachio paste? What on earth are you supposed to do with that?” ask my friends in bemusemet. “Eenie meenie miney mo, which kind of oil shall I use today”, I muse, “Greek olive, Provencal olive, Portuguese olive, Austrian pumkin seed or sesame seed?”. Yeah right, photos are all I bring back from my travels. I bring back the entire grocery store.
The other day when I was once again scrabbling about in one of my kitchen cupboards trying to find something useful (tinned tomatoes, sugar, tuna – you know, actual food!) and coming up only with seaweed crisps from Japan, crispbreads from Sweden and achiote paste from Mexico, I decided that I had had enough. It was time for radical action – a roll call of all the edible flotsam and jetsam in my cupboards was in order, followed by an organised plan to use them up, one by one, and to derive some pleasure from then rather than frustration. To make sure I did not lose sight of the slippery little suckers again, I put my exotic collection on the kitchen counter – and they had barely been there a few days when I caught sight of one of them on my dear friend Jamie’s blog: the creme de marrons, or sweetened chestntutr cream (think the love-child of a chestnut Nutella and a can of caramelised condensed milk). The recipe for a decadent and near-flourless chocolate chestnut fondant dessert struck me as the perfect alternative Christmas dessert, which is why I made it for friends at a pre-Christmas lunch last week. It is terribly easy to make, and absolutely decadent to eat: think of it as my little Christmas present to you (you can thank me later!).
- 200 g dark chocolate
- 160 g) butter (I used salted)
- 3 large eggs
- 1 x 500 g tin of Crème de Marron (sweetened chestnut cream)
- 1 rounded Tbs plain flour
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a 20cm springform pan with baking paper.
- Break the chocolate into squares into a heatproof Pyrex bowl. Cut the butter into blocks and add to the bowl, then set the Pyrex bowl over a saucepan of boiling water on the stove (do not let the bowl touch the water). When the chocolate is mostly melted, remove from the heat and stir stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture blended and smooth. Allow the mixture to cool until it is lukewarm.
- Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat well until blended, then whisk in the chestnut cream. Slowly add the chocolate mixture while continuing to whisk. Sift in the flour and mix well.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan and bake for about 30-40 minutes, until the fodant is set in the centre, slightly puffed and cracking a little.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before serving. Mine was served at a pre-Christmas dinner, accompanied by thick brandied cream.