Nigel Slater's recipe for red leaves, cheese and warm chestnuts, and for chestnut chocolate cake

the chestnuts are here: dark, plump, and shiny - and flat on one side from where they're huddled together in a spiky green box. Sweet chestnuts grow in the woods near my childhood home. I'd keep it in my backpack coat pocket on my way home from school. We toasted them over the fire, which now and then cracked like a whip, releasing a burst of pea shards.

Better, in my opinion, is to bake it in the oven. A deep cross on their round side will stop them from bursting and burning their flesh. This is how I cook it to eat it as is, without worrying about throwing away the brown skin. However, they are hard work, if you intend to finely refine them or use them in desserts. I always turn to pre-made purees and vacuum-packed whole nuts. They can be folded into Christmas nut bread, tossed with aromatic pot-roasted birds or into the filling for cookies or chocolate chip cookies.

The chestnut purée may not look like much to look at, but introduce just enough icing sugar, meringue, and melted chocolate and you have one of the world's classic marriages. This saves a lot of work for the cook. I look forward every year to the new season of marrons glacés, with their fudgy textures, frosting and gold origami-style wrapping. I'm hoping for some in my stocking.

Chestnut leaves are long and slender with saw-toothed ends, and are often used to wrap goat cheese. You can grill one whole, in the leaf, then open it and watch the melted cheese ooze out. You'll need some crunchy toast on the side or russet apple slices, toasted nuts and a bunch of bitter leaf.

Red leaves, warm cheese and chestnuts

Find a little cheese wrapped in a fig leaf for this if you can. Or use kitchen foil to wrap your cheese. Serving 4

  • chestnuts 200g
  • goat cheese 4, weighing about 80g each
  • treviso, radicchio and other red chicory 100g in total
  • pears 200g
  • 1 bit, small and raw
  • red wine vinegar 2 tbsp
  • garlic 1 small clove
  • olive oil 3 tbsp
  • Dijon mustard 1 tsp

Cut a cross on each chestnut, then place, in a single layer, in the baking dish. Bake for 25 minutes at 180C/gas mark 4, until the exposed nuts are a pale golden color, then remove from the oven, cover with a cloth and let rest 15 minutes. Remove the nuts from their shells – I'm not too fussed about removing the brown shells – and crush or chop them into small pieces.

If your cheese came in a fig leaf wrap then all is well. If not, place the cheese on a sheet of foil, loosely wrap it over the top and tape the edges. Bake them (they can share the oven with the chestnuts) for about 15 minutes until the cheese starts to release liquid.

Make the sauce: peel and crush the garlic into a paste with a pinch of salt. Place the pasta in a small bowl, pour in the vinegar and set aside for 10 minutes. Add the mustard to the vinegar, then whisk in the olive oil with a fork.

Wash the leaves and tear them into large pieces. Cut pears into 4 or 6 pieces, depending on size – core and core. Peel and chop the beets. Stir the peeled pears, beets and chestnuts with the sauce and leave until the cheese is set.

Place lettuce leaves on a serving plate, add pears; dripping sauce over the leaves. Place melted cheese on top.

Offer these in thin slices, with a dollop of chantilly cream on the side. Serving 8

For cake:

  • butter 250g
  • caster sugar 225g
  • self-raising flour 225g
  • baking powder 1 tsp
  • cocoa powder 30g
  • egg 4
  • milk 4 tbsp
  • hot espresso 4 tbsp

For stuffing:

  • dark chocolate 250g
  • butter 100g
  • chestnut puree 400g
  • caster sugar 2 tbsp
  • Complete:
  • cooked chestnuts 100g
  • icing sugar 1 tbsp

You will need a 20cm square baking dish lined with parchment paper and a 20cm loaf pan for the cakes.

Set the oven to 170C/gas 3. Cut the butter into cubes, place in the bowl of the food mixer and add the caster sugar. Beat until soft and creamy. Break eggs into a bowl, add milk and beat gently. Sift flour, baking powder and cocoa powder. Add eggs to cream butter and sugar. If they start to thicken, add 1 tablespoon of flour. Mix flour and cocoa, then coffee. Stop the engine as soon as everything is combined.

Transfer the dough to a square tin, smooth the surface and bake for 35 minutes, until puffed and springy to the touch. Remove and set aside to cool.

Make the filling: break the chocolate into small pieces, place in a heatproof bowl, then balance over a pot of simmering water. Let the chocolate melt without stirring. When it is completely melted, cut the butter into small pieces and add to the chocolate, stirring gently, until melted. Mix chestnut puree with sugar and beat until smooth with a wooden spoon. Stir the puree into the melted chocolate.

Cover a rectangular loaf pan with clingfilm, pushing it into a corner and letting some of it hang over the edge. Cut a piece of cake the length and width of the cake tin. Slice this into 3 horizontally, to give 3 thin strips. Place one at the bottom of the can. Add one-third of the chestnut chocolate mixture, mix well then place the second piece of cake on top and press firmly. Now add the second third of the chocolate mixture, the remaining cake pieces, and then the last piece of cake.

Fold the clingfilm over the tin and place in the fridge for 2 hours. Keep the remaining third of the mixture in its bowl over hot water. (Even if the heat is off, the dough will cool, but won't harden as much.)

Turn the tin over and take out the cake. Brush the top with the reserved chocolate mixture, then garnish with the cooked chestnuts and sprinkle with icing sugar.

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