I’ve been doing Christmas shopping on Oxford Street where, at this time of the year, the distinct aroma of hot roasted chestnuts pierces the frosty winter air. This simple, indulgent dessert, also known as Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco, is an Italian classic. It is named after one of the highest peaks in the Alps, and is made to resemble a snowy mountain – making it perfect for winter. Using fresh chestnuts, although time-consuming, gives the best flavour, texture and colour. Good-quality chestnuts are also available in vacuum packs or frozen in large supermarkets, so do experiment. Mont Blanc is often served with meringues and strong black coffee. The non-traditional optional garnishes I have suggested would probably make an Italian person blanch, but they add do variation. Serves 8.

700g/ 1.5 lb fresh chestnuts OR 2 x 400g/ 1 lb tins whole chestnuts
A little salt
125g/ 5 oz caster sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
150 ml/ ¼ pint double cream
150 ml/ ¼ pint whipping cream
Icing sugar and cocoa powder for dusting
Optional garnish: chocolate flakes, fresh fruit pieces, or colourful sugar sprinkles

1.    If using fresh chestnuts, pierce each chestnut with a knife or skewer, and place in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Add a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Drain, rinse, cool, and remove the shells and skin. If using tinned chestnuts, simply rinse and drain.
2.    Place the chestnuts in a food processor, and blitz a little at a time until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Alternatively, you can mash the chestnuts using a potato masher. Add the sugar and cinnamon, and mix gently.
3.    Pass the crushed chestnuts through a potato ricer so that the mixture forms into shreds.
4.    Pile the chestnut shreds onto a serving dish, and carefully shape into a pyramid with your hands.
5.    Whip the two creams together until stiff, and spoon on top of the chestnut pyramid, smoothing down the sides so that it looks like a snow-capped mountain. Refrigerate for 3 hours.
6.    Sprinkle with sifted icing sugar and cocoa powder just before serving. Garnish if desired.