The year is 1999. I am studying abroad in Barcelona. I had befriended a fellow exchange student and music lover named John a few months earlier. He has invited me to a concert in Grenoble, France, where his girlfriend lives. I am to meet the two of them in Grenoble, so I board a northbound train at Sants Train Station and set out for southern France on my own. I am having a conversation with a young French guy sitting across from me. He has just taken out a bag of marrons glacés, which he explains to me, are candied chestnuts. I put one in my mouth...and I have no words. I am awestruck. It is quite possibly the most delicious thing I have ever tasted.
marron glacé, though I have not actually eaten one since that day on the train to Grenoble. It has been too long. I could order some, but they are quite pricey (like $3-4.00 per chestnut pricey). So, I shall make them myself. I have found some recipes, and they do not seem too tricky.
My first attempt...was a failure. Chestnuts, I found out, are very difficult to keep whole when you peel them. They have an outer husk and an inner pellicle that should both be removed. I have since read that some the pellicles of some varieties are easier to remove than others. I must have gotten the ones with the stubborn pellicles, because it was a pain in my ^$*%@$#!
My second attempt was...less of a failure, but still not quite a success. This time around I used prepared chestnuts that were already peeled. First I found jars of steamed chestnuts and also cans of steamed chestnuts in water, but both were still quite pricey. Then I took a peek in a grocery store in San Francisco when we were up visiting some friends and found dried chestnuts for half the price of the jarred ones. So I bought a couple of pounds, and looked up how to rehydrate them. In the end though, I realized that I hadn't rehydrated them quite enough. Nonetheless, I was left with plenty of properly candied chestnuts (mostly the less dense ones, and the broken pieces) and a great experience. I think next time I am going to spring for the the jarred ones and skip the rehydration.
For now, though, I'll walk you through my process with the dehydrated chestnuts. First step was to boil them. I boiled them for about 30 minutes, but I think I probably should have done it for close to an hour. At any rate, once they are cooked through, drain them (reserve the delicious water and use it for making rice, or coffee, or...). Then fill a saucepan half full of water with 1/4 cup of sugar - bring to boil. Put the chestnuts in carefully, bring to a boil again, then turn the heat down so that the water just barely simmers. Cook the chestnuts until nearly tender. This takes 10 to 20 minutes.
Next, make a syrup with 1 1/2 cups of the sugar, 3/4 cup of glucose (or light corn syrup) and the water; stir, and bring to a boil; cook for 10 minutes. Pour this syrup over the chestnuts, cover with a teacloth and leave overnight or all day. Drain off the syrup into a saucepan and add 1/4 cup sugar; stir, and bring to a boil - cook for 5 minutes. Pour onto the chestnuts and leave overnight or all day, again. Repeat this last procedure 4 more times, every morning and evening, adding 1 tsp. of vanilla the last two times. Leave the chestnuts in the syrup another half day, turning occasionally, then drain off the syrup, reserving it.
Now for the drying process. Preheat oven to 150"F cover an oven rack or baking rack with parchment paper (or waxed). Distribute the crystallized chestnuts evenly and allow to dry out with the oven door propped open a few centimeters for 2 hours or until they are firm. Spread the chestnuts out on a dish or rack to dry off. Pick out the small broken pieces, add to the reserved syrup and use as a garnish for desserts.
If kept more than a week or so, the sugar in the chestnuts may start to crystallize; in this case, it is better to preserve them in their syrup, draining them before use. E voilá! I can't wait until the next time I make these. You never know, I could be the next Clement Faugier!