‘Tis the part of a wise man to keep himself today for tomorrow, and not venture all his eggs in one basket’ – Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
I’m almost ashamed to admit how many eggs our household goes through on a weekly basis. When I say ‘household’, I’m referring to my boyfriend and I – there’s just the two of us in our little flat – and when I say ‘we’, what I really mean is ‘him’. Yes, my love of all things sweet means I go through my own fair share of eggs – baked into brownies, whipped into macarons and stirred through yolk-rich custards for ice cream – but Carniverous Boyfriend takes egg-eating to the next level. You’ve heard of the government’s ‘five-a-day’ vegetable rule, right? My boyfriend applies this to eggs.
Packed with vitamins and minerals, less than eighty calories per portion and no longer subject to unwarranted aspersions of cholesterol-causing properties, the humble egg is a pretty good thing. Its high protein content and richness in Omega 3 fatty acids makes it the perfect muscle building block for obsessive gym-goers like my boyfriend, while its versatility of structure also makes it a bakers secret weapon. Eggs emulsify to help us achieve the lightest of sponges, coagulate to bind ingredients together, froth up into beautiful foams or fold down into rich yellow glazes. Life without eggs would be a very different one indeed.
But some people have to live it. A few months ago a friend of ours was diagnosed with an intolerance to eggs. Affecting just 0.2% of all UK adults, egg-intolerance is not as prevalent as something like coeliac disease – which I’ve touched on in a previous post – making it all the more of a blow for our friend to discover at the same time that he was also intolerant to wheat. Cutting out eggs is one thing. Cutting out flour is another. But combine the two and you’ve got a bit more of a baking conundrum. Eggs act as the perfect base for dense, flourless chocolate cakes or rich creamy custards, so to lose their wondrous alchemy in the kitchen makes it necessary to cast the net a little wider for interesting recipes to make on an egg-free diet.
Nowadays you can buy all sorts of amazing ingredient replacements, from different kinds of gluten-free flour to ‘Egg Replacer’; a powder made from soy protein isolate and potato starch. You can also substitute eggs with ingredients of similar textures – tofu or banana for example, although the latter naturally imparts a strong flavour to whatever you are making. Pulses and nuts are also useful storecupboard ingredients to use in egg-free, flour-free baking, and with our friend coming for dinner and Christmas just around the corner, I decided to have a go at cooking with chestnuts, the perfect winter ingredient.
The resulting recipe is a celebration of these shiny brown nuts, barely adapted from something I found on the BBC Good Food website. Exceedingly simple to make, it involves just a few key ingredients – chocolate, chestnuts, butter, vanilla – melted and blended down to a thick, smooth paste. Chilled in the fridge then coated in a glossy dark chocolate ganache, this chestnut cake is best served in thick, rich slices with a large dollop of cool vanilla ice cream. The nuts add a slight grainy texture to this dense chocolate slab, and it doesn’t taste dissimilar to a giant chocolate truffle. As our friend said, someone could make a killing wrapping this and selling it as a chocolate bar. But until you can buy it in pre-packaged form, you’re going to have to make do with the recipe below.
I can’t imagine a life without being able to eat flour or eggs, but recipes like this prove that – of course – it’s possible. And while it may be a little tenuous to apply that Miguel de Cervantes quote to my baking, it’s good to know that if the unthinkable ever did occur, and I had to cut certain ingredients out of my diet, I’ve got a few good recipes up my sleeve; not all my eggs would be sitting in the same proverbial basket.
Chocolate Chestnut Truffle Cake (barely adapted from this BBC Good Food recipe)
For the cake:
400g cooked chestnuts
100g golden caster sugar
100g dark chocolate
3 tbsp full fat milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp whiskey, cointreau or festive spirit of your choice
For the chocolate coating:
110g dark chocolate
25g salted butter
2 tbsp single cream
Butter and line a small loaf tin with cling film.
Blend the cooked chestnuts and sugar in a food processor until smooth. Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in a pan with the butter and milk over a low heat until you have a thick, smooth sauce. Stir in the vanilla and alcohol.
Pour the chocolate mixture into the food processor and blitz with the chestnut purée until smooth and well combined. Pour into your prepared tin, smooth the top, then cover the tin with cling film and chill in the fridge for 24 hrs.
Once firm, turn the truffle cake out onto a flat serving plate or board and peel off the cling film. Gently melt the chocolate, butter and cream for the coating, then spread over the top and sides of the cake. Return to the fridge to set.
Serve in thin slices with pouring cream or (as I did) a scoop of cold ice cream, made without a custard of course!