A Modern Mont Blanc
Chef Michael Laiskonis puts his spin on the chestnut dessert.
To the pastry chef who seeks to maintain some semblance of seasonality, the long dark months of winter seem endless. There is, however, an overlooked gem to consider until warmer days yield the fresh flavors of spring and summer – the chestnut. While the ingredient can be a tough sell for some, in terms of flavor and texture, the classic Mont Blanc dessert is a perfect way to win them over — and a great vehicle to build upon.
Named for its resemblance to the famed snow-capped peak straddling the border of France and Italy in the Alps, the dessert likely has its origins in the latter, but it has been embraced as a staple of French patisserie for decades. Versions of the Mont Blanc date back to the 19th century and in its simplest form, the dessert comprises little more than a mound of sweetened chestnut puree piped into distinctive threads, or vermicelli, and topped with whipped cream. It has seen a resurgence in recent years as pastry chefs around the world develop creative updates and interpretations.
While preserving the spirit and central focus of the Mont Blanc, my spin seeks to balance the typical sweetness with complementary flavors and layer a dynamic series of textures. Choosing to use the verrine, or glass, as a vessel frees me from thinking about the rigid architecture of a typical plated dessert, allowing me to experiment with the juxtaposition of multiple elements. Assembly in the glass also turns this old-school dessert into a fun mashup of other classic ideas, like trifle (cake and cream) and vacherin (frozen ice cream or sorbet and crisp meringue).
My version of Mont Blanc begins with chocolate – a milk chocolate cremeux infused with a touch of coffee – an echo of the chestnut’s depth and richness. The whipped cream of the original is swapped with a more refined vanilla parfait or light crème anglaise-based mousse. These two creamy textures – one dense, one airy – help extend the flavor of the chestnut.
Texturally, I’ve added multiple elements to keep each bite interesting. Layered between the vanilla parfait and chestnut puree are pieces of cocoa chiffon cake; while moist enough to stand on its own, a brief soak in a light rum syrup offers a classic complement. Topping the piped-in nest of chestnut – here a simple blend of unsweetened and sweetened purees – are the nutty crunch of amaretti cookies and chunks of candied chestnut and confit lemon peel.
Finishing the dish, a small scoop of pear sorbet provides a fruity counterpoint and temperature contrast. My favorite component, a thin disc of dried meringue, caps the modern Mont Blanc inviting one to shatter through the shell, drawing together each flavor in varying proportions.
In production, I find this dessert works well on a restaurant menu, striking the right balance of advance prep and a la minute finishes; it is also ideal for entertaining and high volume. With a few tweaks, this Mont Blanc might also find a place in a retail pastry shop as a takeaway item.
Mont Blanc: Chestnut, Milk Chocolate, Coffee, Vanilla and Pear
Yields 10 servings
Milk Chocolate Coffee Cremeux
- 150 grams whole milk
- 140 grams heavy cream (36% fat)
- 25 grams sucrose
- 10 grams roasted coffee beans, crushed
- 60 grams egg yolk
- 1.5 sheets gelatin, hydrated
- 200 grams milk chocolate couverture
- Combine the milk, cream, sucrose and coffee in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil.
- Remove from heat and whisk in the egg yolks. Add the hydrated gelatin.
- Strain into a container and add the milk chocolate, emulsify with an immersion blender.
- Divide among 10 serving glasses and freeze.
- 90 grams whole milk
- 140 grams heavy cream (36% fat) (1)
- 2 grams lemon zest
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
- 50 grams sucrose
- 50 grams egg yolk
- 2.5 sheets gelatin sheets, hydrated
- 130 grams heavy cream (36% fat) (2), whipped
- Combine the milk, first measurement of cream (1), sucrose, vanilla, and lemon zest in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil.
- Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the egg yolks. Return to heat and cook to 85˚C/185˚F. Add the hydrated gelatin and cool to 15˚C/60˚F.
- Strain. Fold in the second measurement of whipped cream and deposit into each serving glass, on top of the set milk chocolate cremeux. Chill to set.
- 50 grams cake flour
- 7 grams cocoa powder
- 2.5 grams baking powder
- 1 gram salt
- 25 grams egg yolks
- 36 grams brewed coffee
- 24 grams vegetable oil
- 50 grams sucrose (1)
- 60 grams egg whites
- 15 grams sucrose (2)
- Combine and sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Reserve.
- Whisk together the egg yolks, coffee, oil and first measurement of sucrose (1). Gently incorporate the dry mixture into the egg yolk mixture.
- Prepare a simple meringue with the egg whites and remaining sucrose (2). Fold into the egg mixture.
- Transfer to a parchment-lined one-eighth sheet pan and bake at 205 C/400 F for approximately 15 minutes or until set.
- Allow to cool. Cut into small cubes or tear into small pieces and reserve.
- 250 grams chestnut puree
- 250 grams sweetened chestnut paste
- Thoroughly combine the chestnut puree and paste and pass through a fine sieve.
- Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a very fine straight tip.
- 2 pieces whole lemon, peeled into wide strips (white pith removed)
- Water, as needed
- 100 grams sucrose
- Blanch the lemon peel three times: cover in a saucepan with cold water, bring to a boil, and then strain.
- Place the blanched peels in a saucepan with the juice of the two lemons plus enough water to measure 300 grams total. Add the sucrose and heat to a gentle simmer. Continue to cook until softened and translucent, roughly 60 minutes. Cool and chill in the reduced syrup.
- Cut the strips of peel into small squares and reserve.
- 60 grams egg whites
- 50 grams sucrose
- 50 grams confectioner's sugar
- Begin whipping the egg whites in stand mixer on medium speed. Slowly add sucrose and confectioner’s sugar in a few additions until firm peaks are achieved.
- Pipe as desired onto acetate or non-stick dehydrator sheets and gently dry at 40 C/105 F for several hours until crisp.
- 45 grams sucrose (1)
- 2 grams sorbet stabilizer
- 260 grams water
- 50 grams sucrose (2)
- 41 grams glucose powder
- 16 grams invert sugar
- 500 grams pear puree
- Combine first measurement of sucrose (1) and stabilizer.
- Heat water to 50 C/120 F. Whisk in stabilizer mixture, then remaining sucrose (2), glucose, and invert sugar; bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and chill; allow syrup to mature for at least 4 hours.
- Combine the pear puree and syrup and process in batch freezer; extract the mix at -5 C/23 F. Alternatively, transfer to PacoJet canisters and freeze; process as needed.
- Rum simple syrup (optional)
- Candied chestnut, drained and broken into pieces
- Amaretti cookies, crushed
- Gold leaf
- Confectioner’s sugar
- Bring the chilled verrine glass to room temperature and allow to stand for 10 minutes to temper slightly. Arrange several pieces of the cocoa chiffon into the glass (soaked in rum syrup if desired).
- Pipe a continuous strand of the chestnut cream over the cake, nearly filling the remainder of the glass. Place a small scoop of pear sorbet into the center and finish with pieces of the candied chestnut, lemon confit, crushed amaretti cookie and gold leaf.
- Dust with confectioner’s sugar and top with a disc of meringue. Serve immediately.
Practice the fundamentals until you're making plated desserts in Pastry & Baking Arts at ICE.