Beijing Dust Dessert

January 22, 2007, 12:00 AM

The colonial legacy of the British in China produced a strange but potentially wonderful confection known as Peking Dust or Beijing Dust.

Beijing dust

It’s actually very simple, with a base constructed from little more than boiled chestnuts mashed coarsely with sugar and a generous pinch of salt. This base is kind of a chestnut marzipan, though it needn’t be nearly as sugary as marzipan. It should not, for the purposes of this dessert, be mashed finely.

Typically garnished with whipped cream and scary-looking glace fruits, I prefer using fresh, in-season fruits. In this case, I whipped a little cream with some cognac, a touch of sugar, and a hint of vanilla, and topped a mound of the chestnut mix with it. I also dotted the cream with more of the chestnut blend, and added pomegranate seeds and segments of mikan (Mandarin oranges).

A little edible gold leaf adds a bit of visual drama… The flavor is slightly salty-sweet, and balances nicely against the cognac-scented cream. I carelessly used more than a pinch of salt in this case, but next time I’ll use a slightly lighter hand with it. I do like the touch of saltiness, though, for what it adds to the flavor complexity.