As with so many other things in the culinary world, I discovered the mont blanc dessert in Japan.

Mont blancs are named after the French mountain because, traditionally, they resemble a snow-capped mountain. In its simplest form, a mont blanc is a dessert dish of sweetened, pureed chestnuts topped with whipped cream. The dessert became popular in France centuries ago, but it’s believed by some that it originated in Italy. For me, that’s not the important thing. For me, it’s another example of how the Japanese have taken a food that was introduced into the country and turned it into their own creation.

Typical Japanese mont blancs (モンブラン/monburan) start with a spongecake base, topped with layers of cream and chestnut cream. Placed on top of this is a mound of more chestnut cream, piped in long strings like spaghetti. Often, a pickled chestnut is placed at the pinnacle of the chestnut cream mountain.

source: Wikipedia (Japan)

This is a quintessential autumn dessert in Japan. Once September hits, chestnut becomes a popular flavor in everything from coffee to ice cream to Kit-Kats.

From my personal collection of Japanese Kit-Kats. This bag actually uses the Japanese kanji and name for chestnut (kuri), but in Japan, you also hear and see them called maron, after the French word for chestnut (marron).

Also, soups, ranging from packaged powered soup sold in the grocery store to a lucious creamy potage we ate at a French restaurant one December. And there are fresh roasted chestnuts on street corners in small tourist towns. The first time I tried them was in Kamakura, just before my first Japanese Christmas. Before going to Japan, I had eaten chestnut-flavored things but never a real, whole chestnut. Just another Japanese discovery that sticks with me in my memory even years later.

About a month ago, we went to a Middle Eastern grocery store on the advice of some of Geordie’s co-workers. While there, I found packages of pre-cooked, peeled chestnuts and was immediately taken back to Japanese autumns, and I felt the strong desire to make mont blancs. Normally, it’s not my thing to make such a composed, technical dessert, but one doesn’t think of these things in fits of nostalgia.

Well, I got involved baking other things, and after I did some research, making a true Japanese mont blanc seemed like a lot of work, especially since it would only before two people. I considered waiting until November or December to make the mont blanc, because I do like them as more of a late-autumn treat. but then I realized that the chestnut packages all had expiry dates for the end of October, so I did what I usually do and decided to just go ahead and make mont blanc cupcakes.

Brown is not the most appealing color for cupcakes if chocolate is not involved, but these are a little pretty in their own way.

These didn’t come out quite the way I wanted them too. I’d hesitate to call them mont blanc cupcakes. Obviously, they don’t have the distinctive “spaghetti” topping. Nor do they have any whipped cream. What they do have is chestnuts, in abundance. Really, they’re chestnut cupcakes. And for what they are, they taste pretty good.

Not visually a mont blanc dessert, but the flavor is there!

They’re pretty basic. I started by pureeing warmed chestnuts with some sugar and milk, and then mixed some of that with some softened butter as the base for a simple yellow cake. That baked up very nicely, and once cooled, I topped them with the rest of the chestnuts mixed with butter and powdered sugar to make a chestnut buttercream. That was not what I’d intended to do when I planned these. For a more traditional mont blanc, it should have been a whipped cream topping. But because Geordie was taking these to work and I didn’t want him to have to worry about keeping them in the fridge, I decided against it. As it turned out, the buttercream was extra creamy and needed to sit in the fridge overnight to firm up, but they survived the next day outside of the fridge. I also really wanted to frost them in the signature “spaghetti” style, but it was late and I was in a hurry and didn’t want to bother.

If I can find more chestnuts that don’t require me to roast and peel them myself, I’d definitely do these again, with one change. I’d put a cream filling in the middle. Oh, and I’d pipe the frosting properly. So, two changes. In other words, I’d put a little extra effort into making them look like Japanese mont blanc. As they are, they don’t much resemble that autumn delicacy, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t tasty. These were great with coffee, and they did have a delicious autumn feeling to them. And that’s good enough for me right now. I started with what I’m comfortable with, and the results were positive. I’m confident now that I can tackle something a little more complicated and maybe get a little of Japan in my kitchen. It always makes me happy when I can manage to do that.

And in the meantime, I can add another cupcake accomplishment to my list. Yay!