Chestnuts are pretty amazing with their melting, sweet-savoury flesh. A great ingredient in a riot of savoury recipes including soups, risottos, meat-free loaf or burgers, the quintessential stuffing for Christmas or accompaniment to brussel sprouts (I’m in the love ’em camp); and lets not forget the sweet! Cakes, ice creams, cheesecakes, to name a few, but chestnuts are a revelation when paired with dark chocolate.
Steeped them in syrup and chestnuts are transformed into genuine delicacies in their own right! During the chestnuts immersion, sugar penetrates them to their very cores, then starts to recrystallise. My method is positively crude compared to the traditional, sixteen stage (I kid you not) French technique for candied chestnuts, but (dare I say it myself), produces rich, mouth-watering results. The syrup has to be heated to three very precise temperatures so you will need a sugar thermometer for this recipe.
Admittedly it does require time commitment over 3 days as the chestnuts do have to steep in their syrupy bath for a total of 72 hours. But please don’t let that put you off, day one is the most labour intensive, day two you only need the time it takes to drain and re-boil the syrup and pour over the chestnuts to re-immerse them and day three only takes a little longer – as well as draining and reboiling the syrup you will also need to sterilise a jar. It is worth it, especially if you have foraged your own chestnuts, but even if you haven’t I would encourage you to give it a go …. at least once.
Here’s what you need
500g large sweet chestnuts
300ml water (plus water for simmering the chestnuts)
300g caster sugar (I use caster sugar infused with dried elderflowers since summer) 2 teaspoons of natural vanilla bean paste (natural vanilla extract will also work)
200ml liquid glucose
Here’s what you do
Day One: Blanch 500g fresh halved chestnuts in 80-85C (don’t allow boil, it will harden chestnuts) water for 8 – 10 minutes.
Leave chestnuts in water and remove a few at a time with slotted spoon.
Peel removing both layers while the still hot.
You should have 300g of clean chestnut halves.
Bring 300g caster sugar* and 300ml water to the boil in a heavy-based pan to make your syrup. Boil until the temperature of the syrup reaches 104C/220F take of the heat and very, very carefully add the chestnuts. If you find it easier you can place the chestnuts in a shallow heat resistant pan in a single layer and pour the syrup over the chestnuts. Leave chestnuts to steep in the syrup in a cool place for 24 hours.
Day two: Drain the syrup into a pan and heat it to 11oC/230F (softball stage). Remove from the heat and either return the chestnuts to the pan or pour the syrup over them – depending on which method using. Leave chestnuts once again to stand at least overnight in the syrup, although 24 hours is better.
Day three, the final stage: Drain the syrup into a pan and add the vanilla bean paste (or extract) and liquid glucose. Heat the glucose and syrup mixture to 116C/240F (softball). Whilst the syrup mixture is heating up transfer your steeped chestnuts into a sterilised jar. As soon as the syrup mixture has reached temperature very carefully pour the syrup over the chestnuts, ensure there are no air bubbles and seal.
Great with an expresso coffee. Serve a few with a good quality (or homemade) vanilla ice cream, or use them to make luxurious chocolate and marron glacés brownies, muffins or ice cream. Any left over syrup can jazz up your pancakes, fresh fruit salads or cheesecakes. Keep in a cool place and your marron glacés should keep indefinitely. Of course they are unlikely to last that long!