Monday, December 8, 2014

Five years (and a few days) and a special dessert

Every year, around this time, I buy chestnuts, lots of them, to use in savory and sweet dishes or to eat them simply roasted on a cold evening. Chestnuts to me represent autumn and winter, yet this time I made something that I’d normally make during the summer. I made ice cream, chestnut ice cream.

I had a very specific dish in mind. I wanted to make a dessert, a somewhat special dessert for a special day in late November, which was the day this little blog of mine, this cherished part of the internet, turned five.

FIVE. I truly can’t believe I have been blogging for this long. I don’t think I’ve ever been this committed to anything for five years. It feels weird, yet fantastic. It feels like a huge accomplishment but I’ll be honest with you. This past year it’s been a struggle to keep up with this blog. The notion of giving it up crossed my mind and it was the first time I really did not care about it that much. I didn’t want to post as regularly, I wanted to keep things to myself more, live life without having to think about taking photographs of the food I cook or jotting down recipes with every little detail, and words didn’t seem to flow out of me as easily and as much as they used to.

However—and that is a big however—the fact that I found this anniversary worth celebrating, led me to the realization that I do still enjoy blogging, that I do enjoy this type of communication I have with you, the readers; those who quietly pass by, those who always leave a few words that make me feel that what I’m doing here is worthwhile and is being appreciated, those who send me emails with pictures of dishes they cooked from the blog, those who share their knowledge of food with me and who teach me new things, even those who are sometimes a bit harsh or abrupt in their comments; because I truly love creating recipes and sharing them here, with each and every one of you, and it brings me joy having you as my companions on this journey.

So, I had this idea to make a chestnut ice cream but then I thought, it’s winter, I want something else to break that icy feeling. I thought biscuit, and then sablé breton came to mind, a crumbly, sandy biscuit that’s not too sweet and has a light saltiness to it to add another dimension to the dessert. And then I wanted another component, like a sauce, chocolate of course, but with something else in it, to make things more interesting. Alcohol always works with chocolate and then I thought of Armagnac. The best.

A thick sauce that’s creamy, rich, and deeply chocolaty with a kick from the Armagnac, poured over the nutty and smooth ice cream that is cold but earthy at the same time, and the biscuit, that crumbly, buttery, crispy and slightly thick biscuit, adding another texture in the palate, creating a unique dessert. That was the dish I had in mind, and that’s what I made; a balanced and delicious dessert worthy of the five year anniversary of my blog.

So, happy birthday little blog. I really do love you with all my heart.
And thank you to all of you who have been following my adventures in the kitchen these past five years. Hope you join me for the next five to come.

And if you’re in the mood for more recipes with chestnuts, check out these recipes:
Sweet Chestnut Cream (Crème de Marrons)
Chocolate and Chestnut Truffles
Chestnut Cream Truffles
Chestnut Tiramisu
Chestnut Soup with Port
Chestnut Crêpes with Creamy Wild Mushroom Filling

Chestnut ice cream on sablés bretons biscuits with chocolate-Armagnac sauce

Sablés bretons are traditional French butter biscuits from the Brittany region.

You can easily serve this dessert after a festive meal during the Christmas holidays or on New Year’s as it’s so easy to make ahead; the biscuits can be made 1-2 days ahead, the ice cream 2-3 days ahead. The only component of the dessert I’d advise you to make on the day is the chocolate-Armagnac sauce. It is most flavorful the first day, but you can store it in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Also, you can just make any of the three components of the dessert for different occasions. The sablés make the perfect holiday cookies, the sauce can be served over poached pears or quinces for a quick desert, and the ice cream, well, it pretty much is perfect on its own.

The proportion of the biscuit, which is about 1.3 cm thick and 8-8.5 cm in diameter, works great for one large scoop of ice cream and for one serving. You can also cut out the biscuits smaller so you can have more portions of the dessert.

Yield: 8-10 servings


for the sablés bretons (makes 8-10 large biscuits, 8-8.5 cm diameter)
200 g all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1½ tsp baking powder
Pinch of sea salt flakes (I used Maldon)
125 g caster sugar
3 large eggs yolks
150 g unsalted butter, cut into cubes and very soft

1 large egg yolk + 1 tsp cold water, for egg washing the sablés

for the chestnut ice cream (makes about 1 kg)
250 ml fresh, whole milk
250 ml cream, full-fat (35%)
½ tsp vanilla bean paste (or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)
Pinch of salt
3 large egg yolks
50 g caster sugar
300 g sweetened chestnut cream (ready-made or homemade*) or chestnut jam

for the chocolate-Armagnac sauce (makes about 1½ cups)
170 g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped
80 ml cream, full-fat (35%)
1 tsp vanilla bean baste (or pure vanilla extract)
1/8 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp Armagnac (or Cognac or brandy)
20 g (1½ Tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into very small pieces, at room temperature

*If you make my homemade sweetened chestnut cream, make sure to prepare it a day before you make the ice cream and keep it refrigerated.

Special equipment:
for sablés bretons — stand mixer or electric hand-held mixer, plastic wrap, rolling pin, baking sheet, baking paper, 8-8.5 cm round cookie cutter, pastry brush
for ice cream — heatproof spatula, fine sieve, plastic wrap, ice cream machine
for chocolate-Armagnac sauce — heatproof spatula


for the sablés bretons
In a medium bowl add the flour, baking powder and sea salt flakes and mix with a spoon.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the sugar and 3 egg yolks and using the paddle attachment (or a hand-held electric mixer) beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, for about 2 minutes. Add butter little by little, beating well after each addition, until fully incorporated and you have a smooth mixture. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until a dough starts to form.

Lightly flour a clean work surface and empty the dough on top. Knead lightly to form a uniform dough, shape it roughly into a ball and then into a flattened disk, and place it between two sheets of baking paper. Using a rolling pin, roll it out 1 cm thick. Transfer it onto a baking sheet and place it in the refrigerator for 1 hour or until it is firm.

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Prepare the eggwash by adding in a small bowl 1 egg yolk and 1 tsp cold water and mixing well with a fork.

Remove the dough from the fridge, remove the top sheet of baking paper and using a pastry brush, brush the top of the rolled-out dough. Using a fork, make a criss-cross pattern (see photo for reference) which is the traditional pattern for the sablés bretons.

Place baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and bake dough for 6 minutes. Remove baking sheet from the oven and, using an 8-8.5 cm in diameter cookie cutter, cut 8-10 rounds and return baking sheet in the oven. (See photos for reference). Bake for further 8-9 minutes or until the dough is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and leave to slightly cool on the baking sheet for about 30 minutes. Then, using the same cookie cutter as before, carefully and cleanly re-cut the sablés and place them on a wire rack to cool completely.

Don’t throw away the small pieces of biscuit that you’ll be left with. Use them as a crispy topping for ice cream.

You can keep the sablés bretons at room temperature, in a cookie tin, for a week.

for the chestnut ice cream
In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the milk and cream and heat over medium-low heat until tiny bubbles appear around the edges of the pan, being careful not to boil the mixture.
In a medium bowl, add the eggs yolks and sugar and whisk well with a wire whisk until light and smooth.
Very slowly, pour the warm milk and cream mixture into the egg mixture, whisking quickly and continuously so the eggs don’t curdle. Pour mixture into the saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, making sure to keep scraping the bottom of the pan. Stir the mixture until it thickens and coats the spatula, for 5-6 minutes.

Pour the custard through a fine sieve and into a clean bowl. Add the vanilla bean paste (or extract) and salt and stir well. Leave to cool for about 30 minutes and then add the sweetened chestnut cream or chestnut jam and mix with a wire whisk to incorporate. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for about 2 hours or until the mixture is cold.

Empty the mixture into your ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Once the ice cream is ready, empty it into a container suitable for the freezer and freeze it for at least 4 hours before serving.

for the chocolate-Armagnac sauce
Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (bain-marie) and melt, stirring often with a spatula. The bottom of the bowl must not come in contact with the simmering water otherwise the chocolate will burn.

In the meantime, in a small pan, add cream and heat over low heat until bubbles start appearing around the edges of the pan.

Once the chocolate is smooth and melted, turn heat off so the water stops simmering underneath, but do not remove the bowl from the top of the pan so it stays warm. Immediately add to the melted chocolate the heated cream along with the vanilla, the salt and the Armagnac, and stir well with the heatproof spatula to incorporate until you have a smooth sauce.
Add the small pieces of butter one by one, whisking with a wire whisk continuously to incorporate each piece into the sauce before adding the next piece. This will ensure that the mixture won’t split. You should end up with a smooth, shiny and somewhat thick chocolate sauce.

Empty it in a bowl and if you plan on using it on the same day, keep it at room temperature. If you plan on using it the next day, cover it well with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge. You can reheat it in a bain-marie or in the microwave, being careful not to burn it.
You can keep it in the fridge for 3-4 days but it has the best flavor on the day you make it.

assembling and serving the dessert
When you have all the components of the dessert ready, start assembling your dessert.
In individual plates, place one sablé breton biscuit. On top, add a large scoop of chestnut ice cream and then either serve the chocolate sauce on the side, in a small container, or pour the sauce over the ice cream.
Serve immediately.



  1. hmmmmm Magda, this is truly indulgent! Perfect for the 5th anniversary :)
    I know what you mean by keeping things more to yourself and enjoy life and meals without thinking of photography, Ii think we all go down that road once in a while (this year I had that feeling too). But, in the end, we all love our blogs and feel deeply committed to them, eh eh eh, which is good, cos I really love to come here and grab a bit of my beloved Greece!

  2. Congrats Magda. Five years is no mean feat and I guess it's normal sometimes you don't feel like carrying on... However, I hope you will continue this blog for a long time to come, as it is at the top of my favourite food blogs!
    On a different note, and slightly out of left field: I am a Dutchie expat, back in the country for December, and I was hoping you could give me some pointers for nice spots to have breakfast, lunch, dinner in Den Haag. Who better to ask than someone whose food and recipes I admire?!

  3. Congratulations on five years! I am so impressed! And your wonderful confection is the perfect celebration. It sounds like a perfect combination. I wish you and us your audience many more happy years. Christina

  4. congratulations, Magda. 5 Years is an important milestone. I do understand the difficulties of keeping up the blog; I have struggled myself, this year especially, since I have been promoting my cookbook. But I don't want to give it up either.

    Your dessert is brilliant. Truly brilliant. Worthy of your "blogiversary." Cheers!

  5. Well, if it helps you any, I would miss your posts a lot if you decided to stop - and I know I am not alone. One of my colleagues, who is Greek, tells me that she has made about everything you have put on your blog!

    This ice cream - partnered with the Armagnac-laced chocolate - is swoon-worthy. Thanks for sharing and big congrats on your five years of sharing beautiful food with us. ~ David

  6. Thank you all so much for your sweet words and kind wishes! You are the best!!!

  7. Happy Birthday to your blog! I know it is a lot of work for you, especially since you post in both Greek and English. It is more than a food blog. Capturing the true essence of hospitality, you infuse your posts with deliciousness that fills the soul as much as the belly. Thank you.

  8. Magda, happy 5th birthday to My Little Expat Kitchen!

    I totally hear you about getting a little tired after half a decade. But I'm one of those people who is made happy by your creations each and every time I stop by. And this post is a beauty. I love the notion of chestnut ice cream and that drizzle of chocolate looks heavenly.

    xoxo from Berkeley,

  9. Dear My Little Expat Kitchen,

    Happy 5th Birthday to your Blog! We are 2 of your (hitherto) silent fans and would like to tell you here how much pleasure and education we derive from your wonderful blog. You were first discovered by my daughter, a young doctor who loves to cook, and then I joined her in visiting your Blog regularly and cooking many of the delicious dishes you present. Both of us live in Atlantic Canada, so very far away from you. We truly love your Blog and would be desolate to see it end!!

  10. Thank you all very much for your kind and supportive words! I really appreciate it!

  11. Congratulations on your five year bloggiversary! I've been blogging for around the same amount of time so I can relate to your struggle. It is not as easy as it looks. Lucky for us, your readers, though, you've decided to keep doing this! Love this dish. I can imagine the chestnut ice cream melting over the cookie. Yummy!

  12. Congratulations! Dessert looks wonderful and perfect for the occasion :) And it has made me very hungry! :)

  13. I love love love the idea of chestnut ice cream (how did I never think of that ??!!!!!) and the pairing with the sable breton (also one of my all-time favorites) sounds like a real win! Congrats with your 5th bloganiversary, may there be many more! :-)