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Fergus’s Chestnut Tarts from Dragonfly in Amber

Fergus’s Chestnut Tarts from Dragonfly in Amber

Dragonfly in Amber

“What on earth is that?”  I peered over his shoulder, and gasped when I saw the signature at the foot of the letter.  James Stuart, by the grace of God King of England and Scotland.

“Bloody Christ!  It worked, then!”  Swinging around, I spotted Fergus, crouched on a stool in front of the fire, industriously stuffing pastries into his face.  “Good lad,” I said, smiling at him.  He grinned back at me, cheeks puffed like a chipmunk’s with chestnut tart.

“We got it from the papal messenger,” Jamie explained, coming to the surface long enough to realize I was there.  “Fergus took it from the bag while he was eating supper in a tavern.  He’ll spend the night there, so we’ll have to put this back before morning.  No difficulties there, Fergus?”

The boy swallowed and shook his head.  “No, milord.  He sleeps alone — not trusting his bedmates not to steal the contents of his bag.” He grinned derisively at this.  “The second window on the left, above the stables.” He waved an airy hand, the deft, grubby fingers reaching for another pie.  “It is nothing, milord.”

Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber, Chap 13 (Seal Books, 1992)

Fergus is in the house, and I can barely contain myself!

I like some mischief in little boys —  and so, our little would-be aristocrat, with his nose upturned and imperious disdain plain on his face, has been a favourite of mine from the start.

But somewhere along the way, the young imp grew into a handsome man with a slick of black hair and a certain je ne sais quoi that has turned my maternal affection into a full blown crush.

Let’s just say I’d be happy to lend Fergus a hand any time of day or night.






As for today’s food, these chestnut tarts are a seasonal, fictional and historical treat all wrapped up in a neat little almond shortcrust.  Why not set aside some of the chestnuts destined for your Thanksgiving stuffing to make a batch of these as well?

Heck, some of us may even be able to find locally grown chestnuts.  Fergus’s tarts would have been made from European Chestnuts but American Chestnuts, although smaller, are known for their sweeter nut.  The only variety I could find in my little corner of the world are Europen Chestnuts grown in Korea.  Strange, but true in the often-whacky modern world of food distribution.

One last note before you scroll down to the recipe — it’s scarier than it looks — sure it’s long, but there are relatively few ingredients, and the instructions are straightforward.  Give yourself at least 3 hours to complete it from start to finish, or make the pastry the night before to split up the work.

Also check out the “New School” and “Old School” tips listed after the recipe.  They’ll help you to make things easier or more authentic, whichever you prefer.

lima-lined-crust roast-chestnut-crust baked-chestnut-tart

(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe.)

Fergus’s Chestnut Tarts

Yield: 24 tartlets

A sweet almond crust filled with a rich, savoury chestnut filling.  The perfect treat for brothel-born pickpockets, or any other urchins you happen to pick up along the way.

Pâte Sucrée  

  • All-Purpose Flour 1½ Cups (360 ml)
  • Powdered Sugar – ⅔ Cups (160 ml)
  • Almond Meal (finely ground blanched almonds) – ⅓ Cup
  • Salt – ¼ tsp (2 ml)
  • Butter, cold & cubed – 6 Tble (90 ml)
  • Egg Yolk – 1

Sift flour, powdered sugar, almond meal and salt into a mixing bowl.  Add butter and rub cubes between your finger tips to incorporate it into flour mixture.  Continue with this method until you have a slightly yellow, evenly coloured mixture the texture of sand. (sabler method)

Add egg yolk and gently mix with your hands until the mixture comes together into a ball.  If it appears dry, add 1-2 teaspoons cold water..

Flatten the ball into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.  (Pastry can also be frozen for up to 2 months.)

Preheat oven to 350° F.

On a lightly floured board, roll out ½ of the dough to an ⅛” thick.  Using a cutter (and working quickly so that the dough doesn’t warm up and become fragile) cut rounds to fit the cups of a mini-muffin pan or individual tart pans.  Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Cut small squares of parchment or foil to line each of the pastry shells.  Fill with uncooked beans or peas (or pastry weights).

Par-bake the shells until they are slightly dry, but still uncoloured, about 8-10 minutes.  Cool on a rack.

Chestnut Filling

  • Chestnuts – 1 lb (454 g)
  • Honey – 3 Tble, divided
  • Butter – 1 tsp
  • Vanilla Bean – ½ (split lengthwise) (or 1/2 tsp extract)
  • Whipping Cream – 2 Cups (500 ml), divided
  • Eggs – 2

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Use a sharp knife to make a horizontal slash or “x” along flat side of each chestnut.  Cover scored nuts with cold water and bring to a boil over med. high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Remove 2 nuts from water at a time, and use a sharp knife to peel way shell and bitter inner skin.  You should have about 2 cups of peeled chestnuts when you’re done.  Quarter 6 of the best looking chestnuts.  Melt the butter and stir in 1 teaspoon of honey to melt.  Toss quartered chestnuts in this mixture and roast in the oven until golden, about 8-10 minutes.  Cool on a plate.

Add remaining chestnuts to to a small saucepan with the vanilla bean and cover with 1¾ cups whipping cream.  Bring to a gentle boil over med. heat, then reduce to low and simmer until very tender, about 30 minutes.

Drain chestnuts in a colander lined with cheesecloth or a clean dishcloth.  Reserve cream and stir in 2 teaspoons of honey.  Chill.

Puree nuts in a food processor with the remaining ¼ cup of whipping cream and 2 tablespoons of honey.  With machine running, add the eggs, and continue to process until very smooth.

Put a honey-roasted chestnut piece in the bottom of each tart shell.  Fill each shell with chestnut puree, smooth tops and bake until filling is set and crust is a light golden.

Allow to cool 5 minutes before removing the tarts from the pan to cool completely on a rack.

Whip the reserved and chilled cream with a hand-held mixture until soft peaks form.  Spoon or pipe cream onto the top of each cooled tart.  Serve.

Ith gu leòir! (Eat Plenty)



New School Tips:

  • Use frozen tart shells
  • Buy canned or frozen chestnuts from an Italian or French specialty store – an expensive option, but chestnuts are a pain to peel.
  • Sweet tooth?  Add more honey (or sugar) to the filling.

Old School Tips:

  • All but 1 of the first batch of chestnuts I bought were rotten.  The second batch was about half and half.  Choose nuts that are firm and shiny with no signs of mould, and buy a few more than you need, just in case.
  • My pâte sucrée recipe uses powdered sugar, which was not around in the 18th C.  If you have a lot of experience making pastry, feel free to substitute granulated sugar for the powdered.  Proceed with caution, though — you may have to adjust the other ingredients to make it work (and it won’t be as good).
  • If you have warm hands, run them under cold water and pat dry before handling pastry.
  • A food mill is an excellent non-electric way to puree the chestnuts in place of a food processor.  A fork or potato masher will not give you the smooth texture you want.



  1. Lee Ann
    November 10, 2011 at 9:43 am

    Have I told you how much I love this? I do 🙂 Did you have to get permission from Diana Gabaldon?

    • Theresa
      November 10, 2011 at 10:19 am

      I’m so glad you like it Lee Ann…Diana, aka Herself, did give me her blessing to start this “little” project!

    • Lee Ann
      November 16, 2011 at 12:48 pm

      Very cool.

  2. Jinny (@tinyjinny)
    November 10, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Err, ‘remove from eat’ in first paragraph for chestnut filling. 🙂

    • Theresa
      November 10, 2011 at 10:17 am

      Thank you, Jinny — that’s what I get for “rushing to print!”

  3. Needs Mead
    November 10, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Oh my. Adding to the list.

    • Theresa
      November 10, 2011 at 10:37 am

      Yeah, these are really worth making — very delicious, indeed…

  4. Bri
    November 10, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Wow – I am in awe of your awesomeness! This post just made my day. Love the blog and I’m excited to see more!

    • Theresa
      November 10, 2011 at 10:34 pm

      Thanks very much, Bri! Hope you`ll come back soon!

  5. I love living the books through the food like this. You’ve even got me re-reading all 7 now. They’re lined up by my bedside table (too many to fit ON it). Thanks for being willing to go through these recipes for us.

    • Theresa
      November 10, 2011 at 10:33 pm

      Christiane, I just moved my set of books from beside my bed to beside my computer in my office. I almost feel a little sad, even though I`m going through them almost every day now!

  6. Eliot
    November 10, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    These look spectacular and a dish that is super festive for the upcoming holidays. (I’m glad you warned me, though, it did look scarier than it was!)

    • Theresa
      November 10, 2011 at 10:32 pm

      Eliot – t he chestnut filling is delicious, even by the spoonful — I`m glad you agree the recipe doesn`t look too hard!

  7. Faith
    November 11, 2011 at 6:54 am

    these look wonderful! I’m not a huge fan of nuts in general, but I might have to make an exception here.

    (as an aside, can you do a bread recipe? I make a sour dough but lately it’s been falling flat. I’m curious to see other recipes. 🙂 )

    • Theresa
      November 11, 2011 at 7:25 am

      Faith – how many mentions are there of fresh bread and butter across the 7 books? Yes, we will definitely be doing a loaf from time to time!

  8. Suzi
    November 11, 2011 at 7:21 am

    These look sooo good. I just bought chestmuts yesterday and was only going to roast them, this recipe is a much better way to use them. Thanks I will give this a try.

    • Theresa
      November 11, 2011 at 7:24 am

      Great news Suzi! Let us know how they turn out…

  9. claudia
    November 11, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    Oh this looks heavenly! My neighbor has a chestnut tree and we are always pulling baby chestnut trees from the grass. I should just go over and pick chestnuts – the squirrels bring them to my yard anyway. Beautiful recreation!

    • Theresa
      November 13, 2011 at 9:15 am

      I was inspired by your chestnut pudding, posted only days before! I’m glad we share a love for the savoury power of the nut. 😉

  10. Alice Watkins
    November 23, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    Funny you said you got your chestnuts from Korea. We have 2 big chestnut trees in the front yard and never use the nuts. Two tiny old Korean ladies come every year now to harvest them and give us home made egg rolls in return.

  11. Anna Lapping
    November 24, 2015 at 5:48 am

    Therresa, I think I have bouillon cups and saucers the same pattern as that plate! I’ll post a photo later today!
    I love this recipe. Sometimes Costco has bags of shelled chestnuts this time of year. I’ll check it out. Sounds yummy!

  12. Cathy Entman
    November 24, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    What about canned/jarred chestnut puree? Don’t think I’ve ever seen a fresh (?) Chestnut.


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