Chestnut Custard Tart, Full of Christmas Cheer – Recipe 4

Vanilla Custard Tart with Chestnut Puree Spread

During the cook-a-thon that was the weekend before Christmas, in which my wife and I got our first real glimpse of just how hard professional chefs have to work, I turned out something of a rarity for me, and thus far, unique to this blog – a dessert. Touring the food blogosphere (hmm, starting to dislike that word almost as much as the word “foodie”), we notice that there are a lot of bakers out there with all kinds of recipes for coconut cake, brownies, muffins, crumbles, brittles and pies, in sharp contrast to our savory-only approach. The reason is that neither my wife nor I are hugely into sweets. I mean, we like them, but the prospect of making a cake and eating the whole things ourselves is off-putting because we know we’ll be sick of it after a couple of slices. For example, a month or so ago, I was craving muffins one Sunday and so I made a dozen cranberry muffins. I ate two that day and recently found the rest of them sporting blue and green hair styles that would have made the Sex Pistols jealous as they moldered away in a cake tin.

So, I must tell you that I am not the world’s best baker, which I hope is of some consolation to the food fans among you who daren’t bake because it seems too daunting a prospect. And, on the few occasions I do get my dander up and decide it’s time to butcher another recipe my mother could have turned out perfectly in her sleep, it is often bread (I refer to my comments about the lack of good bread in America below), and sometimes scones or muffins. Only very, very occasionally, will I try a pie or a tart. In fact, I think the last time I made a pie was about six months ago. It was a French apple tart and I made it with no rolling pin, no spatula and no oven, and the pain of making it has put me off trying another dessert since. (Needless to say, said tart had more in common visually with the face of a particularly zitty teenager than the recipe I was following.) But this past weekend, full of the festive spirit, and perhaps a couple of lunchtime sherries, I decided that since we were up to our elbows in eggs and flour (for the pasta) I might as well make a pie.


Riffing off the recipe for the French apple tart, (but replete with the right tools for the job this time), I skipped the apples and replaced them with a chestnut puree that I’d found at the supermarket in a dusty old can and bought on impulse. I always associate chestnuts with Christmas whether they’re in a stuffing, simply fire-roasted and cracked with a glass of sherry, or used in desserts because to me they impart one of the signature scents of the season. Real bakers, if you’ve bothered reading this far, feel free to smirk, or even guffaw, because all this really was was a pasty crust slathered with pastry cream (similar to a creme anglaise, or to you British readers, just vanilla custard), and then topped with the chestnut puree and finished with a shake of powdered sugar. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of the sliced tart, so I’ve made a really weak attempt to recreate it in cross-section in photoshop (see above). Honestly though, in a season when a lot of desserts are heavy, full of seasoned, dried fruits, candied ginger and other spices, this one, if not exactly light given the butter and eggs, is clean-tasting, simple and straight-forward to prepare, and, perhaps most importantly to me, was widely acknowledged to be a success, which increases the chances that I’ll make it again some time. Enjoy!


For the sweet pastry dough:
1/2 cup (4oz) room temperature unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 cups of all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted
1 whole egg
1/2 cup confectioner’s (icing) sugar
1/8 tsp baking powder

For the pastry cream/custard:
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean or 2-3 tsp of vanilla essence
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp plain flour, sifted
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
6 to 8 tablespoons of chestnut puree
4 egg yolks

For the pastry:

  • In a bowl, combine the butter and sugar. Using an electric mixer on low, beat until smooth.
  • Add the egg and beat until creamy. With a spatula, fold in the flour and baking powder, then beat with the electric mixer, again on low, until dough is evenly mixed and clings together.
  • Shape dough into a ball, cover in plastic wrap (cling film) and refrigerate for at least two hours. (mine was in the fridge overnight)
  • Bring to room temperature before use.
  • For the pastry cream/custard::

  • In a large bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar with a whisk. Whisk in flour and set aside.
  • In a large saucepan over high heat, combine the milk and the vanilla and bring to a boil.
  • As soon as milk boils, remove from heat and whisk half of hot milk into egg mixture.
  • Return milk to burner. As soon as milk comes to boil again, add eggy-milky mixture and whisk vigorously.
  • Stir mixture over high heat until it thickens and starts to boil again.
  • Remove from heat, pour into a bowl and press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard to stop a skin from forming.
  • Allow to cool completely before using.
  • Assembling it:

  • Preheat oven to 350F / 175C.
  • Remove dough from fridge and allow to come to room temperature.
  • Flour work surface and rolling pin before turning out dough. Roll dough into a rough circle, about 1/4 inch thick and wide enough to line a 10-inch pie dish. Pick up dough by rolling it around pin, and the lay onto pie dish.
  • Press dough gently onto dish and trim edges with a knife. Remove custard from fridge and immediately, using a spatula, dump in pastry cream/custard and smooth it so about 1/2 inch deep.
  • Then, very carefully do the same with the chestnut puree (or topping of your choice), making sure not to disturb the custard. It’s best to do this when custard is still cold as this makes it less likely that you’ll mix the puree and custard together while you spread one on top of the other.
  • Bake for about 40-50 minutes, or until chestnut puree has bubbled, thickened and looks shiny. Allow to cool thoroughly before serving at room temperature sprinkled with powdered sugar and with scoop of vanilla ice cream or dollop of whipped cream.
  • Accompany with your digestif of choice. I like a cognac or a calvados (French apple brandy).
  • Then, feel proud that you’ve made a great dessert, and bask in the warm glow while friends and relatives congratulate you!

    3 thoughts on “Chestnut Custard Tart, Full of Christmas Cheer – Recipe 4

    1. UMMMMMM- HELLO,CLAUDIA! You are gonna be a reader after our own heart. First – you ask people if you’re on crack. 2 – you’re actually READING the posts (which we love). AND YOU”RE RIGHT – my husband f’ed up. f’ed up MAJAH-LY. I blame him. It’s changed. THanks to you. THANKS FOR BEING OUR FRIEND… we heart you. can you be our editor? amy and jonny

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