It's never too soon to get ready for Christmas and the shops all around Versailles are already ready, teasing the consumers with Christmas decorations and food (with emphasis on food!). Even the Versailles municipality installed some Christmas lights on the streets (but not powered them yet as we try to be gentle with our planet and electricity budget) and I can already see twinkling lights in some of the shops' windows (or maybe they were already there from the last year...)
Anyway, I was asking myself what can I do to bring a little excitement in my kitchen and prepare for the upcoming holidays (the Christmas spirit and all) and while perusing my endless recipe list I found the perfect thing to do: les marrons glacés, candied chestnuts. This delicacy in particular costs an arm and a leg to buy ready-made (60+ Euros per kg, more than 1 Euro a piece, something like a macaroon, you know...) but sweet chestnuts in general are a must-have ingredient in all the French winter holidays cuisine: simply roasted or steamed as a side dish, in crème de marrons (a chestnut purée, often used to fill the traditional Christmas cake, la bûche de Noël), in dinde aux marrons (turkey with chestnuts, the traditional Christmas main course) or candied, individually wrapped, and served as it is as a much loved sweet.
I declare open the chestnuts craze of this year!
Attention, please! The recipe after the jump doesn't contain chocolate, hooray!
One of the advantages of being in France is that I can find sweet chestnuts everywhere, already peeled or not, already cooked or not, on its own, in jars, or frozen (every combination of those three categories is available, especially in the winter, the marrons season). The candying process is simple but lengthy and can be applied to every fruit you have on hand (every citrus you can think of, cherries, pears, apricots, figs, strawberries, I've even seen candied melons and watermelons, so the sky's your limit).
The recipe goes as following, the principle being the immersion of the fruit in concentrated sugar syrup so the fruit water is gradually replaced by sugar:
Make a small incision in your raw chestnuts then boil them for about 20 min or until you can peel them off their two layers. If you do this while they're still warm, it's going to be easier to peel - every time the interior layer becomes hard to peel, just put it back in the hot water for a half of minute then resume the peeling. If you're lucky enough to buy them already peeled, skip this step. Then weight them. In my case it was 300g, for more than 30 chestnuts (I'm starting to feel rich! Famous, I am already... :D)
In a pan add the same weight of water (300g), the same weight of sugar, half of a vanilla pod, then bring all to boil. I've tried once with more quantity than necessary because I didn't have batteries for my balance scale, so you can do the same without worries. The important thing to remember is to have the same weight for both water and sugar. Leave it simmer uncovered for 2-3 min (one minute more if it's a bigger quantity), then add the unpeeled chestnuts and boil everything for another minute. Switch off the heat and leave it for about 24h in this syrup.
The next day drain the chestnuts off the liquid, bring the syrup to a boil for 2-3 minutes, then add the chestnuts and cook for another 3 minutes. Switch off the heat and leave it there for another 24h. Repeat this process several times (in total there should be a minimum of 3 times but 6 times is better, some gurus say), then take the chestnuts out and leave them to dry at room temperature for another day.
Optionally (as if it wasn't enough sugar in there!) before letting it dry, you can mix some syrup with powdered sugar and glaze the fruits: it will add a fine opaque layer, a little crunchy.
Now: unless you're a self-control freak, they won't resist untouched for a very long time, but if you are, you can store it in a paper bag at room temperature.