Candied chestnuts (marrons glacés)
Candied chestnuts are an iconic dish of Christmas over here: you give a box of 6 or 10 to people. Why so few? Well, one is because they’re a terribly rich food, and the other reason is that they’re very, very expensive. A good candied chestnut will be 3 euros or more apiece. I’d always assumed the reason for the price was that making them was super complicated, and that I should therefore abstain.
But then I found a recipe online, and I saw that they’re not complicated to make. They’re just… an investment. Not in ingredients (it’s basically sugar and chestnuts) or in supplies (you need a metal colander, a large saucepan, and you’re set), but in time.
See, this is a recipe that requires 7 days from start to finish.
Before you run away screaming: on each of those seven days you’ll need only 15 minutes, tops. But there’s no question it’s a time investment: you can’t just start this one hoping to eat your candied chestnuts in the evening. However, I promise you that the results will be very, very worth it.
- 750g of chestnuts, cooked and peeled (see notes)
- 1kg white sugar
- 170g brown sugar
- ⅔ vanilla pod or 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons of rum
- Day 1: Make a syrup by boiling 660mL of water with 500g of sugar and the scraped vanilla pod for 4min, until the sugar is dissolved. Take off the heat, add the chestnuts. Leave to rest for 24 hours.
- Days 2-5, each day: Remove chestnuts. Add 90g of sugar, boil to make a syrup (for 4 minutes). Take off the heat. Add the chestnuts. Leave to rest for 24 hours.
- On each subsequent day, add sugar, boil and leave to rest. This increases the concentration of sugar in the syrup and allows it to penetrate the chestnuts more deeply.
- Day 6: Remove chestnuts. Add 170g of brown sugar and 2 teaspoons of rum, boil to make a syrup (for 4 minutes). Take off the heat. Add the chestnuts. Leave to rest for 24 hours.
- Day 7: Remove the chestnuts. Leave to dry for 2 hours. Make a glazing with the syrup: 100g of icing sugar to 50g syrup. Heat the oven to 210°C, put the chestnuts in for 1 min (just enough to warm them). Glaze them while warm, then put them back in the oven for 20-30s.
- The glazing is optional: however, if you're going to do it, respect the given steps. The two hours ensure the syrup dries off the chestnuts, and the extremely brief cooking times in the oven are just so the chestnuts are the right temperature for the glazing to set. You don't want to cook them
Cooking and peeling the chestnuts is the major pain of this recipe (if you’ve ever tried to peel a cooked chestnut you should know why). I got mine frozen, partly precooked and peeled (Picard is a great source if you live in France). It should also work with canned cooked chestnuts.
Getting the chestnuts in and out of the syrup is going to be the major source of breakages. I had a metal colander–I know some people manage to put a colander or cooking basket directly in the saucepan, which enables easy withdrawal of the chestnuts.
This doesn’t actually work with all chestnuts varieties–the catch is that there are so many of them that you won’t know until you try. The worst that can happen is that the chestnuts will get crunchy instead of tender and crumbly–still pretty good eating but not the actual candied glazed chestnuts everyone thinks of in France when they say “marrons glacés”
Below, top: the chestnuts after 1 day of glazing. Bottom: the chestnuts after 3 days of glazing (notice the difference a few days make!).