Montebianco (Montblanc)

Montebianco

Montebianco—which most English speakers know by its French name Montblanc even if the dish originated in Italy—is an elegant dessert often served for Christmas, but, to my mind, it is a perfect conclusion to any festive occasion in the late autumn or winter. Named after the highest peak of the Alps straddling the border between France and Italy, Montebianco is simply a mound of puréed chestnut perfumed with cocoa and other flavorings and topped with whipped cream, a veritable mountain of sweet deliciousness. And it’s rather easy to make once you’ve prepared the chestnuts, so if you buy prepared chestnuts at the supermarket, you can whip this up in no time.

Ingredients

Makes enough for one large Montebianco or six individual servings

For the chestnut and chocolate ‘mountain’:

  • 2 large jars of pre-cooked and peeled chestnuts, about 800g/28 oz (see Notes)
  • 75g (2-1/2 oz)  granulated sugar, or more or less to taste
  • Milk, enough to cover the chestnuts
  • 3-4 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
  • A few drops of vanilla extract
  • A splash to two or rum (or the liqueur of your choice)

For the whipped cream ‘snow’:

  • 500 ml (2 cups) whipping cream
  • 2-3 Tbs confectioner’s sugar

Directions

Place the chestnuts and sugar in a saucepan and add enough milk to cover. Simmer until the chestnuts are quite tender and the milk fully absorbed by the chestnuts. Purée the chestnuts in a food processor or pass them through a food mill. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Add the cocoa, vanilla and rum to the chestnut purée. Mix everything well with spatula until perfectly smooth and homogeneous, with a texture and feel akin to bread dough. (If you find it is a little too stiff, you can add a bit more rum to loosen it up.) Let this mixture rest in the fridge for at least an hour, as long as overnight.

Now it’s time to make your ‘mountain’: Get a food mill or potato ricer, add the chestnut mixture (or as much as it will hold in one go) and turn or squeeze the handle until the mixture comes out the other end in strands. Let the stands fall onto a serving plate or, if making individual servings, the dessert bowl. As you proceed, the stands will pile up and form a mound resembling a mountain. Let that sit while you proceed to the next step. (You can also make the dish this far several hours ahead of time.)

Now make your ‘snow’ by whipping the cream with the confectioner’s sugar until it forms soft peaks. Don’t let the cream get too stiff.

Finally, finish off your dish by pouring the whipped cream over the chestnut and chocolate mountain. The cream should trickle down the sides, making an effect that looks like a snow-topped mountain. Serve immediately, or when you’re ready to eat.

Notes

The amount of sugar given here is just a suggestion; you may like your Montebianco more or less sweet. And some people (including Lidia Bastianich) forego the cocoa, to better appreciate the pure chestnut flavor. Speaking of which, for whatever reason, although Italian recipes invariably call for unsweetened cocoa powder, I’ve noticed that most English-language recipes call for melted bittersweet chocolate. Not sure why that is, but feel free to substitute if you like, although the cocoa just seems a lot easier. As for the rum, you can omit it if you abstain from alcohol—or opt for another liqueur if you prefer.

One thing you must never omit is the whipped cream; besides the aesthetics that are so essential to the dish, you need the cream—and lots of it— to add some lightness to the dish, without which it would be just a bit too ponderous. Ditto for passing the purée through a food mill or potato ricer; it’s an essential step to lighten the purée. (And if you don’t own either, you really should!)

If using fresh chestnuts in their shells, up the amount to 1.2 kilo (2 lbs 7 oz) and follow the instructions on How to Roast Chestnuts. While the chestnuts are still hot, remove their shells and the thin inner skin that clings to the chestnut meat. Don’t worry to much about keeping the chestnuts intact, as they will be puréed anyway later. 

But even if purists may scoff, I heartily recommend using store-bought peeled and cooked chestnuts for this dish. It makes the job so much easier. Here in the US, they are usually imported from France and sold in glass jars as marrons entiers. 

Montebianco-1

And if you really want to make life easy on  yourself, you can also buy chestnut purée, to which you need only add the cocoa and rum, but that just seems to me like cheating.

Montebianco (Montblanc)

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 6-8

Montebianco (Montblanc)

Ingredients

    For the chestnut and chocolate 'mountain':
  • 2 large jars of peeled and pre-cooked chestnuts, about 800g/28 oz (see Notes)
  • 75g (2-1/2 oz) granulated sugar, or more or less to taste
  • Milk, enough to cover the chestnuts
  • 3-4 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • A few drops of vanilla extract
  • A splash to two or rum (or the liqueur of your choice)
  • For the whipped cream 'snow':
  • 500 ml (2 cups) whipping cream
  • 2-3 Tbs. confectioner's sugar

Directions

  1. Place the chestnuts and sugar in a saucepan and add enough milk to cover. Simmer until the chestnuts are quite tender and the milk fully absorbed by the chestnuts. Purée the chestnuts in a food processor or pass them through a food mill. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add the cocoa, vanilla and rum to the chestnut purée, along with the sugar. Mix everything well with spatula until perfectly smooth and homogeneous, with a texture and feel akin to bread dough. (If you find it is a little too stiff, you can add a bit more rum to loosen it up.) Let this mixture rest in the fridge for at least an hour, as long as overnight.
  3. Now it's time to make your 'mountain': Get a food mill or potato ricer, add the chestnut mixture (or as much as it will hold in one go) and turn or squeeze the handle until the mixture comes out the other end in strands. Let the stands fall onto a serving plate or, if making individual servings, the dessert bowl. As you proceed, the stands will pile up and form a mound resembling a mountain. Let that sit while you proceed to the next step. (You can also make the dish this far several hours ahead of time.)
  4. Now make your 'snow' by whipping the cream with the confectioner's sugar until it forms soft peaks. Don't let the cream get too stiff.
  5. Finally, finish off your dish by pouring the whipped cream over the chestnut and chocolate mountain. The cream should trickle down the sides, making an effect that looks like a snow-topped mountain. Serve immediately, or when you're ready to eat.
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17 Responses to “Montebianco (Montblanc)”

  1. 22 January 2014 at 09:48 #

    In Milan Montebianco is usually sold as a cake with whipped cream, meringue and marrons glacees… I say sold because we usually buy it in a pastry shop rather than make it at home. A while back I posted a short-cut recipe to make Montebianco, but it is very different. This looks very elegant yet even simpler, less caloric and cheaper (no marrons glacees) than my version. Must try it!

  2. 8 January 2014 at 23:56 #

    How is it possible that I’ve never seen nor heard of this lovely dessert? Although it’s admittedly quite elegant, I think my kids would get a kick out of eating their way down a mountain – although I may rename it La Majella for them ;) Buon anno!

  3. 6 January 2014 at 16:19 #

    un fantastico dessert e l’idea di usare lo schiacciapatate è geniale Frank ! Buona settimana

    • 7 January 2014 at 12:47 #

      Grazie, Chiara! L’idea purtroppo non è mia ma comunque ha funzionato alla perfezione!

  4. 6 January 2014 at 13:44 #

    Frank – What a treat to see this on your blog – a little appreciated dessert here in the U.S., but wow, how people go crazy for it in Italy. I attended a chestnut sabra in Italy, and ate my way through roasted chestnuts, chestnut spreads and finally monte bianco. delizioso, but I’ve never made it for some reason. Now, reading your recipe, I’m ready to give it a go. I even have a full jar of those chestnuts on my shelf.

    • 7 January 2014 at 12:48 #

      Sounds like you’re all ready to go! Never understood why the Montebianco never caught on Stateside…

  5. 6 January 2014 at 05:00 #

    This is one of my favorite desserts. As a kid, I just adored it. I used to squeal with delight as the chocolate chestnut puree came out of the ricer. And of course, I always had to have tons of whipped cream on top. Buon anno. Frank!

    • 6 January 2014 at 13:02 #

      Buon anno anche a te, Adri! And thanks for sharing your delightful memories… :=)

  6. 5 January 2014 at 23:35 #

    Mmmm…thanks for bringing this dessert back to relevance, Frank! We’ve been in a chestnut kind of mood lately, anyway.

    • 6 January 2014 at 13:07 #

      I’m always in a chestnut mood! And who know why these wonderful old-time dishes ever went out of style…?

  7. 5 January 2014 at 16:26 #

    Simply DELICIOUS!!!!

  8. 5 January 2014 at 16:18 #

    I have never had this – although toyed with it. This is one perfect winter dessert – just enough cocoa and bitter and sweet to warm this very chilly Minnesotan. Yes, looking at doing this in January.

    • 6 January 2014 at 13:02 #

      Thanks, Claudia! Do let us know what you think!

  9. 5 January 2014 at 15:31 #

    Buon *anno* darned spellcheck

    • 6 January 2014 at 13:01 #

      Buon anno anche a te, Domenica!

  10. 5 January 2014 at 15:31 #

    Such a simple and elegant dessert. I’m with you ~ I like the touch of bitterness that the cocoa adds to the flavor of the chestnut puree. Chestnuts are not appreciated enough, IMO. This reminds me that I have a little cookbook devoted to just chestnuts ~ I’ll have to dig it out. Thanks for the inspiration, Frank. Buon nano!

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