Monday, October 8, 2012

Mont Branco, or Brazil by way of France, sort of

I didn't know what Mont Blancs were until I saw them on Bravetart's excellent website; during my one and only trip to Paris post-college we skipped Angelina's (who apparently has the famous, definitive version), having heard that it was overly expensive and a bit rundown. (Also, we had a whole list of chocolate shops to walk to, jeez.) For some reason that I still can't quite put my finger on, the chestnut-flavored spaghetti dessert sounded appealing, with one major problem: chestnuts are not readily accessible around here. So, another recipe/idea was filed away for who knows when.

But as it were, I had started to see enormous brown woodchip-like somethings around the markets here in Brazil, and then Tom from the informative eatrio blog explained that they something akin to giant pine nuts, called pinhão. I initially thought maybe I could make something like pine nut shortbread with them, so I picked some up. What I soon realized was that pinhão are much milder in flavor and starchier than pine nuts, less fatty, and as they were described as chestnut-like (by Tom, actually, I'm just a bit dense), I began to think about using them in place of chestnuts and doing a variation of a Mont Blanc. For the filling I decided on a dulce de leche-enriched whipped cream (my Argentinean housemate's father was visiting, which means amazing dulce de leche in the house).  

I wish I could call it Pão de Açúcar, but Pão de Açúcar is greenish, and, uh, snow free. Mont Branco? (Branco=white in Portuguese.) There we go. I should probably mention that we just bought a new camera in the states and these are hopefully that last of the sad but occasionally entertaining pictures taken by my extremely worn out old camera. I was trying to line up the building's dome with the (ridiculously precarious-looking) peak, but then the batteries went out.

Look, I realize all of this makes me a total crazy person. I'm not even sure if there is any point in posting the recipe because, well, if few people would make the regular version, who the hell is going to make it with giant South American pinenut-chestnuts? But I'll post it for myself, in any case, if I ever decide to replicate the lunacy which, frankly, is rather unlikely, not because the results weren't delicious but because overly-involved projects mostly interest me when they're experiments, not when I know they, you know, work. Which is why a good amount of the time, if I want something sweet I make oatmeal cookies or vanilla pudding. BUT just because I've already done this experiment doesn't mean you have (GIANT PINENUTS, people). I dare you.

I tried several variations for the base and decided that I liked the basic meringue base the best, though the pictures show a pate brisee-ish base.

Mont Branco

125 g. boiled, peeled pinhão (from about 200 g. raw and unpeeled)
1/4 batch pastry cream
2 Tbsp. salted butter
6 egg whites
pinch salt
1 1/2 c. white sugar
3/4 c. heavy whipping cream, cold
3 Tbsp. dulce de leche, jarred or homemade

Process the pinhão with the pastry cream until mostly smooth, then add in the butter and process until the butter is fully incorporated. Load a pastry bag (fitted with whatever tip you like) with the pinhão cream and refrigerate until needed (you may want to take it out of the fridge 10 minutes before using just to warm it up a bit).

Preheat the oven to 250F. Beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until they form soft peaks, then gradually add in the sugar until you have a stiff and glossy meringue. Pipe or spoon the meringue onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper into circles with a 4'' diameter. Bake for an hour, until dried out but not browned. Turn off oven and leave the meringues in the oven until thoroughly cooled.

To assemble: beat the whipping cream with the dulce de leche until you have fluffy peaks (don't overbeat the cream or you will get butter). Place large dollops of the whipped cream in the center of the meringues, then pipe the pinhão cream around it. Serve immediately, and refrigerate any leftovers.

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