I can't say I loved marron glacé at the 1st bite. They take a bit of getting used to if you didn't grow up eating them every Noël as the French do...
Though I've always loved the plain old roasted chestnut - one of the best things about winter as far as I'm concerned along with the holidays and Bergdorf's windows...
The best place to learn about marron glacé is in Georges' candy classroom at Le Bonbon au Palais. In France marrons come from the Ardeche in the south. i'd been waiting anxiously for their arrival at LBAP and last week enfin...voila!
They are picked much like olives by shaking the branches so the nuts fall into netting on the ground. By the way, If you live in France you can watch a whole host of educational programs on FR2 on your iPad. There's plenty of rubbish too like US daytime soaps, all of it will help your French enormement, "je te promis!"
Le Bonbon au Palais carries two kinds of marron glacé and natch Georges says his are the best. Certainment le prix will not make you run from the shop tearing out your hair. And you can buy just one at a time. Many shops insist you buy a whole box at some outrageous price so this is a real plus.
These are called, 'bouche rouge' I suppose because of their dark color. They should look glossy and the sugar should not have cyrstalized.
There are also the marrons from Turin, Italy.
Why are all the best foods like caramels, butterscotch and marrons burnt sienna color?
The inside should have a lovely syropy look to it. These babies can take up to 36 hours to soak up the sugar and vanilla in copper pots/au chaudron. Plus they are quite fragile and must be wrapped individually in gauze before soaking or they will fall apart, hence their high prices.
If they weigh 20 ounces or more they are referred to as 'chaitaigne'. Under 20 ounces they are marrons.
These are 'Brissures' from Naples. Litterally broken bites you can buy for much less but of excellent quality and perfect to garnish ice cream or use in cakes.
I found professor Rachel Hope Cleves just surfing the net and was impressed with her post on Cream Puffs Through the Ages. Who better to share my chocolate Salon bounty of marron glacé for a tasting?
Rachel is in Paris on sabbatical with her family for a year, so she brought to the tasting table another 5 marrons plus very astute 9-year old Maia, 11-year old Eli and her husband Tim, a terrific cook.
We were all novices in the marron arena and we may have bitten off more than we could chew attempting to get FIVE bites out of each one...hmm. Still it forced us to slooow down, taste and think about what we were tasting. No gobbling allowed. We checked for aroma, mouth feel, texture and came up with descriptions like: creamy, granular, chestnuty(?), too surgary, plump and so on.
Altogether it was great fun
And we recorded copious notes.
Professor Rachel has the most legible notes. Mine are hopeless.
Eli's notes have yet to be deciphered...
I'm still a big fan of the plain old roasted chestnuts you buy outside of Galeries Laffayette..
And for a mere 2€
For 4€ you can get the same chestnuts and get trampled by crowds at the Champs-Elysees Christmas marché. One way or the other do try a marron glacé this holiday season. You will be delighted.
Je te promis!