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Dec 3, 2009 04:29 PM

Making Marrons Glacés

I have long been a fan of Marrons Glacés, that wonderful confection made by candying chestnuts. I was turned on to them when I was working at a university hospital and a student returning from a stint in France brought back some; they were amazing.

Unfortunately they seem to only be made by the Europeans, and getting them in Canada is difficult, if you want them done right. I have had some vacuum-packed ersatz ones where the sugar had crystallized, and they were horrible; those I found in an Italian deli here. I had a bunch that were imported (or was that deported?) from France that were not so good.

Then one magical Christmas my SIL, who lived in Geneva, got me some amazing ones (3 kg of them) from Confiserie Rohr in Geneva; I was in heaven. I got some again last Christmas, and am awaiting some again this year.

A few years ago I decided that it was time to make them myself, so I tried, using a recipe I found on the Internet.....and failed miserably. The first problem was peeling the darn things, but that was minor. The major problem was cooking the things without them breaking up. Then if they did not get cooked enough they would get hard. I tried 2 or 3 times, then gave up.

Well, it's time to gird my loins and try again. One recipe I saw made me say, "Why did I not think of that?" - steaming the chestnuts so they do not break up. It was a recipe from, of all places, New Zealand. The rest of the recipe seemed too simplistic.

I am basing this attempt on the following recipe:

Unfortunately (not for me) it's in French. I started the process today. I steamed the chestnuts for 90 minutes, till they seemed tender enough. I consider it a good sign that a few broke. I then made the syrup and put the chestnuts into it.

The battle continues.......

I will update this thread as I progress. Any contributions (in posts or marrons glaces) would be much appreciated.

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  1. When all other search efforts fail, I turn to my favorite series of books, the old Time/Life "The Good Cook". In the Candy volume there is a recipe for Marrons Glaces from Ginette Mathiout's book "La Patisserie Pour Tous". It seems to be a rather involved process with many steps. Here are the steps, paraphrased, and if you want me to post the entire recipe, I'll be glad to, but I thought it might be useful to compare her directions with yours.

    1. Boil peeled chestnuts in water to cover for about 40 minutes, or until a needle inserted into the base of the nut enters without difficulty. Drain.
    2. In a separate saucepan, dissolve sugar and glucose or corn syrup in water, and cook over medium heat until the syrup boils and gets smooth, to 215 degrees F (101 degrees C). Pour into a heatproof bowl and cook. When the syrup is completely cold add the nuts and steep for 24 hours.
    3. Put the bowl of syrup and nuts in a water bath and gradually heat the syrup. Remove the nuts when syrup reaches boiling point. Cook to 216 degrees F. Remove bowl from water bath, return the nuts to the syrup and let them steep for 12 hours.
    4. Remove nuts from syrup, drain them, and put the bowl of syrup back into the water bath. Cook syrup to 220 degrees F (104 degrees C). Remove bowl from water bath, return nuts to syrup, and steep for another 12 hours.
    5. Remove nuts from syrup, return bowl to water bath, and cook syrup to 223 degrees F (106 degrees C). Remove bowl from the heat, immerse the nuts in the syrup, and steep for another 12 hours.
    6. Remove the nuts from the syrup, return bowl of syrup to the water bath, and cook syrup to 227 degrees F (108 degrees C). Immerse the nuts in the syrup and let them steep for another 12 hours.
    7. Drain the nuts and let them dry in a wire basket or wire racks. Dry them first in a dry room for 12 hours, then dry for another 12 hours in a warmer place such as an unlit oven with a pilot light.

    According to the recipe headnote, the sugar concentration in the syrup is increased by the repeated boiling of the syrup without adding additional sugar. It cautions: "each time the syrup is boiled, it must be cooked to a slightly higher temperature; however, do not let the syrup reach soft-ball stage...(because at that concentration)...the syrup will merely glaze the nuts without penetrating them."

    This seems like quite an ambitious undertaking for a home cook - at least a four day process! Good luck and let us know how they turn out.

    5 Replies
    1. re: janniecooks

      Thanks for posting the recipe. If mine does not turn out I will ask you to post the entire recipe. I'm not giving up without a fight !

      I wonder why she uses a water bath. It is usually used to moderate the heat and make sure the temperature is even, but during the boiling process the nuts are not in the water. I wonder if it is to ensure that the soft boil stage is not inadvertantly reached, but I think that would be easy to monitor via a thermometer. I will monitor the temperature.

      It is curious that she says you should boil the syrup to a higher temperature each time. It seems to imply that if you do not do that you will not increase the concentration, which is not true as each time you boil it the emission of steam ensure less liquid in the bowl, hence a higher concentration of sugar.

      It will be interesting to do a side-by-side comparison with a Rohr marron.

      Thanks again.

      1. re: souschef

        I think you misread what I posted. Boiling the syrup to a higher temperature each time is indeed done to increase the sugar concentration. And I'd guess that the use of a waterbath is to help bring the syrup to the proper temperature slowly enough to allow you to remove it when the proper temp is reached. In other words, it should make it easier to control the temperature. Again, good luck to you.

        1. re: souschef

          "It is curious that she says you should boil the syrup to a higher temperature each time. It seems to imply that if you do not do that you will not increase the concentration, which is not true as each time you boil it the emission of steam ensure less liquid in the bowl, hence a higher concentration of sugar."

          Increasing temperature of the syrup *is* a sign of increased sugar concentration. If the temperature of your syrup hasn't risen, you haven't boiled off a significant amount of moisture.

          1. re: MikeG

            Good point, but I am just following the French recipe and adding sugar.

            I tasted one of the marrons today (a broken piece), and it seems promising. I have enough that can taste one a day - it's a one-week process. I can hardly wait!

            BTW from my taste of the marron it seems like it is missing salt - and I am not a salt fanatic.

        2. re: janniecooks

          A WATER bath will boil at 100 C / 212 F and will never heat the bowl above this temperature.
          If the bath is a portion of the SYRUP then it would perform nicely: the heat on the pan can be turned down when the pan boils, but before the bowl does, thus gradually increasing the concentration, aiding the penetration.
          The nuts are never put in the syrup during the reduction process as they would be over cooked and break up, indeed letting the syrup in the bowl cool is mentioned at the first reduction, and should be repeated at each step .
          Making a super strong syrup from the start would fail as it would shrivel the outer layers of the nuts and seal off the deeper flesh from the syrup.
          The panful of syrup ("Water" bath) could then be used, re-diluted, for another batch, or simply to store the nuts in jars before the drying/glazing phase.
          Putting the nuts in a muslin bag would make moving them in and out of the syrup much easier.

          You could divide the nuts into 2 batches and keep the syrup bath hot, merely swapping the bowls, and putting the bag of nuts back in their respective bowls when cooled -this would save time and fuel as the syrup bath would be smaller, as would the bowls, but you would be busier.

          The finished dried marrons glaces have to be eaten within several days; reserving some in jars of syrup would allow some to be kept for much longer before drying and eating.

        3. Wishing you best of luck with this, I can't wait to hear all about it having tried once and failed miserably. (Also drifting along pleasurably on thoughts of 3 kg of marrons glacés, my idea of paradise.)

          2 Replies
          1. re: buttertart

            If mine turns out I will again try the Roger Vergé concoction of marrons with chocolate and cognac. Now THAT, my dear buttertart, is truly heaven.

            1. re: souschef

              Bites of marron, dark chocolate, and a sip of Cognac, right? Sublime.

          2. Alors mon tres cher souschef? Update?

            8 Replies
            1. re: buttertart

              SIGH ! I tried a few of the marrons on successive days, and they seem to be getting harder, which tells me that they were not cooked enough even after 90 minutes of steaming, so they are not absorbing the syrup.

              i am busyy this week, so will start again next week. This time I am going to boil the darn things, by making cheesecloth bundles each containing a few chestnuts so that they do not break up - this is going to be a labour of love !

              I also sent both recipes to a master confectioner from France who makes them, and she is supposed to give me a few pointers. I am awaiting her response.

              This time I refuse to give up !

              1. re: souschef

                Such determination! Hope it works out, these do seem to be beyond the pale in terms of difficulty.

                1. re: souschef

                  A perhaps heretical thought: you might try using some of the Chinese chestnuts in foil pouches? They are already cooked to about the texture of a prepared marron glacéand would be a lot less hassle than starting from the fresh ones (which I've given up on, after too many nicks and scalded fingers).

                  1. re: buttertart

                    Heresy indeed !

                    I am used to Chinese water chestnuts, which are crunchy. I am not used to any that are cooked to the texture of prepared marrons glacés.

                    I peel fresh ones while wearing rubber gloves as I found that the chestnuts make the hands grimy; no protection from nicks, but I am VERY careful.

                    1. re: souschef

                      There are some very nice ones imported from China (where they're used in savory dishes, such as red-cooked chicken with chestnuts, which is delicious). They're packed in metallized plastic pouches along the lines of what "craisins" come in, usually with a jolly cartoon chestnut on the front of the package. They are available in Chinese/Asian markets in NYC for under $1 for 150g or so and I would expect same in Montréal. Just thought they would save you a step or two as they are already shelled and skinned. I would prefer not to be burned at the stake for suggesting them however!

                      1. re: buttertart

                        "I would prefer not to be burned at the stake for suggesting them however!"

                        I don't believe in creating martyrs. Imagine worshipping at the altar of buttertart !

                        Thanks for the info. I will look for them in Chinatown. It may be worth a shot to use them, at least in savoury dishes - I make a great stuffing using chestnuts, pork, and wild mushrooms.

                        1. re: souschef

                          Now the flames they followed buttertart...(pace Leonard Cohen)
                          The really are quite nice - I use them in a lot of things - they make a great cream soup for example, especially good this time of the year.

                  2. re: souschef

                    I have the same book as JamieCooks, Ginette Mathiot writes prior to the recipe a little bit about the recipe and the process;

                    "Each time the syrup is boiled, it must be cooked to a slightly higher temperature; however, do not let the syrup reach the soft ball stage(both this method and the method on pages 50 & 51 can be used for crystallizing fruit) - at which concentration will merely glaze the chestnuts without penetrating them.

                    The method on pg 50-51, the cook adds more sugar, shows using pineapple, but the idea is to use the sugar/boil steep method to penetrate the fruit. And each time they repeat the process they add additional sugar, 1/4 cup. makes sense to me to add more sugar, rather than boiling the orginal sugar down, and down again to increase concentration, anyway for this purpose. Ohin her recipe, she starts with 2 cups of sugar and then cooks it down, where on page 50-51 the cook starts with 1 1/4 cups of sugar and through the process adds 1/4 cup and on tenth day, 1/3 cup.
                    Kind of confusing information and perhaps different results.

                2. Just saw a brief mention by amyzan on the making candy for Christmas thread of candying some chestnuts. Asked for more details. Hmm...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: buttertart

                    I will be buying more chestnuts tomorrow, to try the whole process again. From some of my reading, there are a few different types of chestnut, some of which are better for candying. I can only work with what is available. I will be trying a new source tomorrow, with Italian chestnuts.

                    I just received the Mathiot book - saw it on Amazon going cheap.

                    I`m beginning to think that I need the device to measure the specific gravity of the sugar syrup rather than just going by temperature. I did see one recipe that referenced it.

                    Darn! This is getting to be an obsession. But then, I live to eat !

                  2. The Purolator guy delivered to me today one kilo of marrons glacés from Confiserie Rohr in Geneva. They are sublime ! I now have my benchmark.

                    Tomorrow I start the frustrating process all over again. I hope I succeed before my benchmark is all gone - they are supposed to be consumed within 10 days.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: souschef

                      I too, tried for years to make marrons glaces. I had two chestnuts that showered us with more than abundant nuts every year. I can't begin to tell you how many recipes and methods I went through without obtaining more than a few whole nuts per batch. While they were never visually beautiful, they were still tasty. My theory is the beautiful (pricey) batches of whole nuts you can purchase are the survivors of the commercial batches.

                      As an aside, after my family had gorged on roasted chestnuts, various chestnut recipes, and I had blanched and frozen a supply, I would take my grill, a couple bushels of nuts, and paper bags to the local farmers market and sell hot roasted chestnuts to the patrons. Set up at 8 am, usually sold out by noon, and home by 1 pm with a jingle in my pocket!

                      1. re: souschef

                        Insert jealous look here. I recently came across a box of ones a friend had brough back from Izmir a while back - a bit dried out but otherwise ok. Planning to use them in a shortbread variation based on the King Arthur Flour "Cookie Companion" recipe for freckled shortbread, which calls for2/3 c dried fruit or crystallized ginger processed with a cup of the flour (2 1/3 c flour total in recipe) - using the marrons. (I posted the ginger recipe on the "What Christmas cookies are you baking this year" thread.) Will let you know how they work out.

                        1. re: buttertart

                          I never bake cookies at Christmas; I just bake cakes for specific occasions. I do have a sister who bakes a slew of cookies, and since I am her favourite (and only) brother, I get a batch every year.

                          Looking forward to hearing how your cookies turn out.

                          I'm still trying to figure out if morwen's post should make me give up or try even harder with the marrons. I think trying harder is more fun !

                          1. re: souschef

                            I think possibly one of Pepin's techniques books he has a recipe Ill try and find.

                            1. re: souschef

                              Interesting about the cookies, expected you would be baking up a storm.
                              Morwen's probably right - high cost would be because of small numbers of perfect specimens produced. Of course the déchets must go into other applications. In any case, keep your stick on the ice, I'm pulling for you, we're all in this together.

                              1. re: souschef

                                Oh! Don't give up cuz if you figure it out I'm going to try your technique! Each year we add more trees to our tiny orchard and chestnuts are scheduled for next spring. last year we planted two Korean Stone Pines for pine nuts/pignolias. They're doing great! Who knew?! They grow where white pine thrives and those are the trees we're removing as our orchard expands. At $24.99/lb here, I'm really looking forward to backyard pine nuts!

                              2. re: buttertart

                                Shortbread cookies are what I place in our B&B suites for guests. Do post your results. I'm always looking for new shortbread variations.

                                1. re: morwen

                                  Will do. Haven't tried it yet bcs was making Stollen this weekend.

                                  1. re: morwen

                                    They came out extremely well, delicious with a glass of Sauternes after Christmas dinner. You could do the same thing with the Turkish ones in syrup in jars that don't cost the earth - leave them out on a rack to drain and dry a bit.