A potato ricer, mouli or food mill will be required for this classic, luxurious Piedmontese recipe, which is a perfect dinner-party finale.
300g/11oz/generous 1½cups caster/superfine sugar
1kg/2¼lb/9cupsfresh chestnuts, marrons if possible, peeled (see Cook’s Tip) or 675g/1½lb/6cups peeled chestnuts
pinch of salt
60ml/4tbspStrega liqueur (optional)
750ml/1¼pints/3cups double/heavy or whipping cream
75ml/5tbsp sifted icing/confectioners’ sugar
6 large ready-made meringues, crushed
150g/5oz good-quality dark/bittersweet chocolate, with minimum 60 per cent cocoa solids
30ml/2tbsp good-quality drinking chocolate powder
6 marrons glacés and 12 candied violets, to decorate
Put 120ml/4fl oz/½cup cold water into a pan and add the sugar. Heat slowly until a syrup is formed at the thread stage (this is 107°C/225°F if you have a sugar thermometer; or when placed in cold water the syrup forms a fine, soft thread).
Add the peeled chestnuts to the syrup with a pinch of salt, and poach very gently for about 30 minutes.
Add the Strega, if using. Remove the chestnuts from the syrup using a slotted spoon and set aside. Reduce the syrup by about one-third over a medium heat, then add the chestnuts again. Set aside to cool.
Put the cream into a bowl with the icing sugar and the vanilla extract, and whip it until it forms stiff peaks. Divide the cream evenly into three separate bowls.
Mix three of the crushed meringues into one bowl of whipped cream. Divide the chocolate in half and melt one half in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Mix the melted chocolate into the second bowl of whipped cream. Leave the third bowl plain. Chill all three bowls of cream until required.
Melt the remaining chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water.
Push the chestnuts and syrup through a ricer or a food mill so that they fall in strands into the bottom of your serving bowls, reserving some for the top.
Cover the chestnut strands with a layer of chocolate cream, then a layer of meringue cream, then finally the plain cream. None of these layers need to be smooth and even - they can all overlap.
Crumble the remaining meringue on the top of the mound to symbolise the white peak, so that you can see still plenty of the plain white cream around it. Decorate the slopes of your Montebianco with the remaining chestnut strands. Drizzle with the melted chocolate and dust with a little drinking chocolate powder. Chill and serve within 8 hours.
Just before serving, arrange the marrons glacés and candied violets on top for decoration.