I had the good fortune of getting hold of some really big and fat chestnuts recently, not to mention being able to hand choose the plump and round ones myself! A right start for making myself some marron glacé!
Marron glacé has been one of those things in the list of items which I basically fell in love with when I first had a taste of it. And this is a rather recent “accquisition”. A more faraway memory would be roasted chestnuts peddled by an old man who rode a trishaw modified to hold a large metal pan filled with coarse black gravel-like granules nested with brown morsels. The familiar sounds of those ebony beads being shoveled while he called out “Gao lat eh, gao lat!” still rings in my ears with nostalgia. Without fail, I would pester my parents to buy us a small brown paper bag of it home, a rare treat as we werent well-to-do at all. I vividly remembered my dad being the one who would painstakingly peel them for us, while we sat and waited eagerly around him with the brown bag in the middle over a piece of newspaper. The natural sweetness of freshly roasted chestnuts remains a taste which I crave for, even until today. When I had my first marron glacé not too long ago, I remember being blown away by the taste and textures. It was quite different of how I’d perceived chestnuts would taste like. I was overwhelmed by how “brixy” it was. But as that thin shroud of sugary sweetness melted away, came the wonderful yet familiar earthy aroma of chestnuts. What a plenitude of flavours!
The recipe and method is really simple but somewhat laborious (sounds like an oxymoron I know!) and requires quite a bit of patience as the whole process takes a minimal of 4 days from start to completion!
Chestnuts with most of their shells already removed. They were already so when I saw them which makes the choosing process easier! Just had to pick the fat and goodlookin’ ones!
1kg of chestnuts peeled
1-2 tbsp of trimoline aka invert sugar or glucose
1/2 vanilla pod cut lengthwise and seeds scrapped
(1)Peel to remove most of the shell on the chestnuts and rinse them thoroughly
(2)In a deep saucepan, place chestnuts followed by water just sufficient to cover them.
(3)Bring the water to a boil and continue to simmer in low heat for about 5-10 mins
(4)Turn off the flame and wait for the water to cool down slightly until it becomes “workable”. By that, I meant that one’s able to hold the chestnuts with one hand and peel off the pellicle, i.e. the hairy skin membrane that adheres to the flesh within, together with any remnants of unpeeled shell. They should come off with ease when the fruit is still wet and hot. If not use a toothpick to guide the peeling process. Work gently so as not to destroy the intricate venation on the surface, yet deftly as the pellicle is astringent and would quickly adhere to the flesh once it cools down sufficiently. When this happens, simply return the chestnut back to the saucepan ensuring that it is submerged into the hot water and work on the next chestnut.
(5)Pad dry the peeled chestnuts and measure their mass with a weighing scale/electronic balance.
(6)To a deep saucepan, add sugar and water in the ratio of 1:1 in the same weight to the chestnuts. E.g. if the “dry mass” of the peeled chestnuts is 500g, add 500g of water and 500g of sugar, followed by vanilla pod and seeds.
I placed those which I’d managed to keep intact at the bottom while the broken and smaller pieces stay on top. The logic is simple, big and whole chestnuts take a longer time to cook and thus need to be placed near the bottom which is warmer since convection currents begin there.
(7)Bring the mixture to a boil and form a simple syrup and add the peeled chestnuts.Ensure that all the chestnuts are submerged in the syrup, so depending on the girth of the saucepan, add more water if needed but keep it to as minimally as possible.
(8)When the mixture comes to a boil again, lower the flame and let it simmer in low heat for 30 mins or so.
(9)Turn off flame but leave the saucepan over the hot stove. Allow the contents to cool down very gradually.
(10)Repeat the procedure twice a day over the next 4 days, i.e. reheating the mixture with lid on twice a day, once in the daytime, and once at night.Avoid stirring the mixture too much as it would cause the chestnuts to crumble. Also avoid all temptation to lift up the chestnuts to check on their progress.
(11)Take a look at the perimeter of the saucepan before reheating to observe for sugar crystals forming along the sides. Add 1-2 tbsp of glucose into the mixture before preheating to prevent recrystallisation of the sugar. This needs to be done only once.
Glucose and trimoline aka invert sugar. The former is more accessible in Singapore, since its available in Phoon Huat. It basically helps to prevent recrystallisation of sugar. The latter is what I got from Osaka during a recent trip.
(12) On the 4th day, carefully remove a large piece of chestnut from the saucepan with a slotted spoon or wooden spatula before reheating. Choose a piece which is already broken or had crumbled off. Cut the piece into two and it should look somewhat transluscent almost to the core, a good indication that the candying process is almost over. Give it one final reheating. If not continue and repeat the process for another couple of days. I did mine for 6 days and refrigerated them in the thick syrup using an airtight container for a week or so.
(13)In the evening, remove the chestnuts from the syrup and rest them on a cooling rack over a large tray. This allows excess syrup to drain off. By now, the syrup would have developed a very deep brown hue. Allow the candied chestnuts to drain off their sugar concoction overnight.
Voila! The pièces de résistance, those which managed to retain much of the desired venation at the end of the candying process. And I attribute this to (1) very low flame simmering during reheating, (2) very controlled if not at all stirring, (3) and a much deliberated avoidance to lift them out of their bathing liquids to take a peekaboo or probe at them. They are very fragile and delicate to yield and succumb to the slightest tinge of pressure. Alas not all of the chestnuts survived the candying process to look so aesthetically pleasing and yet delicious at the same time.
Despite being popularly savoured on its own, before I made my own batch, I’d never had the luxury of being able to do so. Marron glacé is used, and almost synonymously associated with Mont Blanc, the celebrated French confection using chestnut paste and purée, crème Chantilly and of course, marron glacé. So no prizes for guessing what I’m going to make next!