Once you’ve roasted a chestnut over an open fire, what do you do with it?
In song, Nat King Cole made the act of roasting them over an open fire an iconic part of the holiday. And they actually taste wonderful by themselves. They are nutty, of course, but slightly sweet and with a mild, mellow flavor. Their texture is also unique; light and softer than other nuts.
But chestnuts by themselves are not festive enough for the holidays. So I decided to make candied chestnuts, known to the French as marrons glaces.
These are delicate marvels of creamy, nutty sweetness. You make a fragrant simple syrup of water, sugar and vanilla, briefly boil peeled chestnuts in it, and you wind up with a treat that one famous mail order company has the gall to charge $45 for a box of eight.
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But yes, they’re that good.
It does take a few days to make them, but you only boil the chestnuts for a couple of minutes each day. The rest of the time they soak in the syrup, so it takes very little effort.
The only difficult part involves peeling the chestnuts. There is an easy way and a hard way to peel chestnuts. I did it the hard way. I greatly recommend the easy way.
The easy way involves cutting a horizontal slit in the shell with a sharp knife, splashing on a bit of water and cooking in a microwave for one minute. And if you peel them while they’re still hot, the inner membrane comes right off with the shell.
Candied chestnuts (marrons glaces)
Yield: About 65 chestnuts
2 pound chestnuts
2 1/2 cups water
2 pounds granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To peel the chestnuts, use a sharp knife (such as a steak knife) to make a horizontal cut across the shell of each nut. Place in a bowl, cover with water and then drain out the water (you just want a little water to get inside the shell). Microwave the nuts for 1 minute and peel; it helps if you pinch the shell at each end of the slit. It is best to do this in small batches; when the chestnuts are still warm, the inner membrane comes off easily with the peel.
In a large pot over medium high, combine the water, sugar and vanilla, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once it is boiling, continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chestnuts, bring back to a boil, and cook 7 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently.
Pour the chestnuts and the syrup in a large container, and cover loosely. Allow the chestnuts to soak in the syrup for 12 to 18 hours.
Add the chestnuts and syrup to a clean pan and repeat the process; this time boiling them for 2 minutes, and then soaking the mixture, loosely covered, for 18 to 24 hours.
Repeat the entire process every 12 to 24 hours for a total of 3 to 4 times, until the sugar syrup has been absorbed by the chestnuts. If the syrup is not all absorbed, drain it before proceeding to the next step.
Preheat an oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the candied chestnuts in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Place the baking sheet into the oven, prop the oven door open a notch and turn off the heat. Allow the chestnuts to dry in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until they have firmed up and the surfaces of the nuts are dry.
Store in an airtight container.
Nutrition per chestnut: 68 calories; 0 g fat; 0 g saturated fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 0 g protein; 17 g carbohydrate; 14 g sugar; 0 g fiber; 2 mg sodium; 3 mg calcium.
Recipe adapted from Rebecca Franklin on about.com and inthenet88 via YouTube.