Marrons glacés

 

You are not mistaken. The name of this wonderful confection is indeed in French – and if you ask any French cook, he will eagerly explain in excruciating detail why candied chestnuts were invented in Lyon in the Sixteenth century. Unfortunately, that’s just your run of the mill Gallic egocentrism. The earliest written recipe of this delicacy appears in an Italian cookbook printed in 1766 in Torino, plainly titled Sweets of Piedmont. The matter is however moot, since in that time Lyon changed allegiances back and forth with Italy faster than you could keep count and French was commonly spoken in Italy too, so let’s just settle on the origin being from that general region. What’s important is to know that marroni (the Italian name) are not regular chestnuts, but the larger and tastier castanea sativa type (unique to the province of Cuneo, by the way), which is also notable for being one single nut instead of being composed of two parts divided by an inner peel. This means that they are relatively easier to peel, which is essential to this recipe. Do not attempt to make marrons glacés with common chestnuts, or they will turn out horribly bitter and tannic.

Ingredients

- 1 kilogram of the largest marroni you can find

- 5 kilogram sugar

- 5 liter water

- 1 vanilla stick

Preparation

Make sure you have lots of time, as making marrons glacés will require several days of on and off cooking. Start by washing the marroni and make a cross-shaped incision on both of the large sides of each one. You will need to be very careful, as you want to cut through the rind and nick the inner peel, but not to cut through the latter. Place two pots of water on the fire, get them boiling and dunk just four of five marroni at a time into the first for one minute. You want to cause a thermal shock that makes peeling them easier, so you can’t let them cool down too much. So peel them making sure to remove the inner peel completely. If it doesn’t peel off use the second pot to dunk the nut again for just a few seconds – but don’t use the first pot as the outer rind will have colored the water and you’d ruin the actual nut. When all the marroni are ready, place them in a pan and cover them with cold water. Heat until it boils, then lower the flame and let it softly boil for 10 to 15 minutes. The nuts are ready when you can pierce through them very easily with a needle. This also means that they are very fragile now, so use a perforated spoon to carefully take them out of the water and put them in another pan of very cold water to stop their cooking. Now put the water and the sugar in a pot. Get it boiling, then add the vanilla stick. Neatly place the marroni on a metal steamer tray, lower it in the pot submerging the nuts, wait for the boiling to resume and cook for one minute. Now kill the flame and do something else for 24 hours. The next day pull the marroni up and let them drain while you make the syrup boil again. Then lower the tray in again, let it boil for three minutes, turn the flame off, and enjoy life for yet another whole day. You want to repeat this process two more times. At the end of this the marroni will be candied (i.e. saturated with sugar), so after the last 24 hours of cooling down you can pull them out, drain them and place them on an oiled paper for about three hours. When they are almost but not completely dry, carefully pick them one by one and roll them in the sugar to lightly coat them, and let them rest for a few hours more until they are well glazed. Note: don’t throw the syrup away as it makes for a great sweet sauce, nor dump the nuts that will inevitably break during cooking. They are perfect to be added to cakes and other desserts!