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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!

The French Friday group has been cooking out of Around My French Table for a while now (just started their third year in October), so I’ve missed a lot of the recipes. Every week, I leaf through the book and see if there’s anything that’s already been done that catches my eye. Turns out, there’s lots. But this is the recipe that really got my heart racing. The group made it a year ago, at the end of October, and it’s no surprise. This is a meal made for autumn.

It’s a pumpkin stuffed with everything good.

Oh, yum.

Seriously, that’s the name of the recipe. And it’s well-named. The filling is pretty flexible, so you can decide what the “everything good” is. For mine, it was homemade bread, Gruyere and Fontina cheeses, lean beef and pork smoked sausage, an apple, and a little garlic. Delicious.

It’s a simple procedure:

Take a sugar pumpkin and hollow it out.

Stuff it with everything good. Pour some cream over top to get it nice and moist.

Bake it until the pumpkin is tender and the stuffing is cooked and bubbly and delicious. Proceed with the devouring.

This can be a meal in itself, a beautiful meal that takes everything awesome about autumn and serves it up in an edible container. I am in love with it. I can’t wait to make it again, with variations. I want more apple, less sausage, cooked kale or spinach, and golden raisins to go in the stuffing. I want to make it a little sweeter and see how that works. A few of the Doristas said they made this every week in November, and I can see why. It’s so adaptable, so flexible, so customizable. And never the same way twice.

Did I say delicious? Because it is. Also: brilliant.

It’s not too late. Go find a sugar (pie) pumpkin and try it yourself. Here’s the recipe. Play with it. See where it takes you. It looks intimidating, but it’s simpler than you might think. And the trip is well worth it.

Confession time. Before this week, I’d never roasted a whole bird. With plans to make roast a duck for Thanksgiving and a turkey for Christmas, Geordie thought it would be prudent for me to try roasting something cheaper first. About once a month, whole chickens go on sale at HEB, so I was able to get a 5-pound chicken for about $2.50. Certainly cheap enough for a roasting test run.

Because I had no idea what to do with a whole bird, I went in search of a good roasting recipe. There are plenty to be found, but I already knew which one I really wanted to use. I was tempted to do a recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, but instead, I went with one from Anne Burrell’s Cook Like a Rock Star. I adore Anne Burrell. As far as celebrity chefs go, she’s my personal culinary hero. I love her approach to recipes, which is to make things as simple as possible without dumbing them down. She explains why you do things, which is always nice, because I always wonder why things are done the way they’re done. Also, when you watch her show, she’s one of the few hosts who doesn’t go on and on about some personal story that you really don’t care about (I get kinda tired of hearing about how someone had a meal once in Spain or Italy or France or something and simply had to recreate it at home, or how they served this particular dish at their cousin’s niece’s brother’s birthday and everybody loved it even though something went slightly awry – I don’t care about that stuff, I just wanna hear about the food!) When Anne Burrell has airtime to fill, she does it by talking about food, and I appreciate that. It’s one thing to read a story in a cookbook; it’s another to have 5 minutes of a 24-minute show wasted by it.

But maybe that’s just me. That’s cool.

Anyway, back to the bird.

My first roasted bird, perfectly cooked and waiting for carving.

I may have used Anne Burrell’s recipe for this bird, but I’ll definitely be looking at other recipes – particularly Dorie’s – because this worked beautifully.

Okay, maybe not visually beautifully. I had a little trouble turning the chicken over and needed Geordie’s help, and things got a little disheveled. Also, I neglected to buy kitchen twine, so I couldn’t truss the bird. I’ll do that next time. I figure it’ll make it easier to turn the bird, which will make it prettier on the table.

Also, I need some practice carving. Burrell provides instructions in her book, but I’m thinking I should probably see a demonstration before I try again. I got the meat off the bird, but it was in no way elegant or clean.

Oh, delicious carrots and gravy and chicken. Why have we waited so long to be together?

Oh, but it was tasty. The gravy was made with the carrots roasted with the chicken, along with some white wine and a little extra chicken broth. Geordie thought it was a little “tangy,” but I loved it. I should have thought to buy potatoes and make a nice mash to lay the chicken on and soak up the gravy, but I didn’t, so I just served the chicken with some homemade bread. Next time, I’ll do the potatoes.

Actually, next time, I’ll do a few things differently. But I will say that, for this time – the first time – I was so happy with my chicken. And I wondered why I hadn’t done it before.

That’s easy enough to answer, really. Doing up a whole bird seems a bit of a daunting task. I was pleased to learn that it’s really not. Once I’d got the chicken into the oven, there really wasn’t much for me to do except make sure the bird got to the right temperature. With a little guidance, that was easy enough. No undercooked or overcooked bird here – it was done just right.

Alright, Thanksgiving, I’m ready for you now! This duck and I are going to take on the world!

Or just the kitchen. That works too.

Sara

I am a daughter and a sister, a wife and a friend. I am a reader and a writer, a dreamer and a realist, a teacher and a learner. I am the mother of a baby born sleeping. I am on a journey of healing, walking a path paved with tears and grief and hope.

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