Known in France as marrons glacés, these fudgy, syrup-soused chestnuts are a traditional wintertime treat believed to date back to the sixteenth century. Though they take a few days to prepare, there’s very little effort involved – once the chestnuts have been peeled! For a lovely festive gift, pop the candied chestnutes into truffle cases and box them up. Or, keep them for yourself, to be enjoyed just as they are with a glass of your favourite Christmas tipple or to decorate cakes and desserts.
- 500g sweet chestnuts
- 300g caster sugar
- 1 vanilla pod
- Using a strong, sharp knife, cut a slash in the skins of the chestnuts right around their middles. Put them in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer until the skins start to split open.
- Turn the heat under the pan to low, to keep the nuts hot as you work. With a slotted spoon, lift out one chestnut at a time and, using a tea towel or rubber gloves to protect your hands from the heat, quickly peel off the skin. With any luck, the inner, fibrous husk will come away with the outer shell, but if any of it remains on the chestnut you should be able to scrape it off with the back of a knife. If not, return the chestnut to the pan for a few minutes and try again. When all the chestnuts are peeled, return them to the rinsed-out pan and cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until tender to the point of a knife. Drain them and set aside.
- Bring the caster sugar and 300ml water to the boil in a heavy-based pan. Split the vanilla pod and add it to the syrup. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add the chestnuts and simmer for another 10 minutes.Turn off the heat, cover the pan with a clean tea towel and leave the chestnuts to stand in the syrup overnight.
- The next day, remove the vanilla pod (see note below) and bring the chestnuts and syrup back to the boil. Cook for 1 minute, then turn off the heat, cover with the cloth and cool. Repeat this process of boiling and cooling for the next 3 days or until the syrup has been absorbed.
- Preheat the oven to its coolest setting (usually around 70°C). Drain the chestnuts of any remains of syrup and set them on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Put the tray into the oven and prop the door open. the candied chestnuts on a tray covered with baking paper, then pop into the oven. Prop open the oven door and leave chestnuts for about 2 hours, until dry and firm.
- Leave to cool and wrap in squares of greaseproof paper or put into paper truffle cases or mini
muffin cases. Stored in an airtight container, the chestnuts should keep for up to 3 weeks.
You can re-use the vanilla pod if you wish: simply rinse off the sugar syrup, leave the pod to dry, and then put it into a jar of caster sugar. It will infuse the sugar with its aroma.
Recipe and photos by Otherwise for Wild Food UK