Mad about Chestnuts

Mont Blanc Macaron

With the fast approaching holiday season, my head is filled with visions of “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” while snow falls gently outside. Except that we don’t have a fireplace, at least not here in Singapore, nor do we have snowy cold winter days that is a quintessential part of my holiday season fantasy.

Nonetheless, chestnuts are still in season (at least I think so, based on the size of the Chinese chestnuts I saw at the market), so it was only befitting that my french meringue macaron adventure continued this past weekend with a chestnut theme. The plan was to make a Mont Blanc dessert using macarons instead of the traditional snowy white meringue base.

              Mont Blanc Macaron

I had the shells baked and ready to be assembled with chestnut cream, crème Chantilly and marron glacés. There was just one minor snag: I didn’t have any candied chestnuts. I looked up recipes for marron glacés and was taken aback to learn that it takes 4 days to make the candies! I certainly didn’t have time to go through the 4-day process; the macaron shells would have turned into terribly sweet sugar discs by then. I decided to go try something else instead.

Making Candied Chestnuts

I first boiled the shelled chestnuts for 10 minutes and removed the brown membranes. The peeled chestnuts were then boiled for a further 20 minutes to get them softer. I made a sugar syrup and poured them over the softened chestnuts, intending to just soak them in the syrup for a couple hours or so.

After a few minutes, I noticed the undeniable beginnings of crystalisation: a white cloudy mass that was slowly spreading like an unstoppable plague throughout the syrup. In my hurry to get the chestnuts done, I must have overlooked a few grains of sugar, which likely served as seeds for the crystalization that I was observing. It was then that I decided to poach the chestnuts a further 10 minutes in a fresh batch of sugar syrup and make chestnuts with a nice shiny glaze instead of “true” candied chestnuts.

While I was pleased with the final look and taste of the assembled Mont Blanc macaron dessert, the candied chestnuts continued to haunt me.

Inside the Mont Blanc macaron

I have never had marron glacés before and had no idea what the real thing tastes like. Soft throughout? Crisp on the outside with a soft interior? With no benchmark, it was easy to be satisfied with what I had. I began to wonder if it would even be possible to make true marron glacés with the Chinese chestnuts I had bought. Apparently, there are several species of chestnuts (European, Japanese, American & Chinese), with certain European species/hybrids being “superior” in that it has a single nut in one fruit instead of the usual several nuts per fruit and has smaller grooves. And so began my 4-day candied (Chinese) chestnut experiment.

Marron Glacés Not?

The photo above shows the results after 4 days. I was disappointed that the chestnuts weren’t translucent. In fact, they looked pretty much like the ones I’d made earlier under 2 hours! The worst part was that many of them developed a tough and chewy texture on the outside, with the centre remaining soft once they’d cooled down after drying in the oven.

I thought that the non-translucency might have been caused by not boiling the chestnuts long enough in the beginning, except that most of them were already on the verge of disintegration when I fished them out of the hot water. The chestnuts were also supposed to have absorbed most of the sugar syrup at the end of the 4th day. But more than half of the syrup remained.

Did I not cook the syrup sufficiently? Was it really a case of the chestnuts being insufficiently soft from the onset? Or was it that the chestnuts I bought were just not meant to be candied like its European cousins? Should I have just boiled them in sugar syrup until they turned translucent instead of soaking/boiling them for 4 days?

Perhaps I’ll just buy ready made ones in the future. Except I don’t know where to find them in Singapore and they have a reputation for being very pricey!

30 Responses to “Mad about Chestnuts”

  1. Evan Says:

    karen, you’re certainly very adventurous to make yr own marron glaces! i’ll never wanna make them, thinking how much work it is just to peel the shells off :( nevertheless your mont blanc macaron looks very good (and original), think patisseries out there will definitely make something like this in no time :D

    anyway i saw the candied ones at culina @ dempsey if i’m not wrong, whole ones somemore. euraco doesn’t sell them?

  2. Karen Says:

    Thanks for the tip, Evan! I’ll check Culina out sometime. It’s actually not that hard to peel the membranes off after boiling. The ones I bought came with the hard shells removed.

  3. Maria Says:

    Stunning!! I love everything I am seeing here!

  4. Jennifer Says:

    Hi Karen,

    I just bought a bottle of chestnut in extra heavy syrup at Meidi-ya.
    It cost about $20 over but the chestnut taste great.

  5. Karen Says:

    Maria: Thank you!

    Jennifer: Thanks for the information!

  6. veron Says:

    What a work of art!

  7. ladyironchef Says:

    hello karen, first time to your blog! very nice photos you got, and the “macaron” mont blanc got really thick fillings!

    cheers
    brad

  8. Karen Says:

    Veron: Thank you! I loved the “Ducklegs” graphic on your duck confit post!

    Brad: Thank you for visiting. I’ve visited your blog previously and I think it’s wonderful that you spend so much time and effort organising numerous food events for local food bloggers/foodies. :)

  9. yixiaooo Says:

    how beautiful!

  10. Dani Says:

    how creative :)

  11. Courses in Culinary Arts Says:

    Chestnuts looks awesome.

    Thanks for posting.
    Karen

  12. Karen Says:

    Thanks, Yixiao & Dani!

  13. Fen Says:

    Wow, they sure look lovely… Looks like a variation from the Isaphan :D Very creative to design such lovely bakes…

  14. nikki Says:

    Hi Karen, I sent you an email a while ago.. and have been waiting for your reply.. I hope you have the time to respond.

  15. Evie Says:

    Cool blog, it’s my first time checking it out.
    Jarred chestnuts are expensive in the US too– $9 for a 7 oz jar Wholefoods. But well worth avoiding the trouble of peeling a wicked hot nut and burning your fingers off!

  16. Susan from Food Blogga Says:

    You were fortunate to find such fresh looking chestnuts. Too often they’re covered with mold, so I ended up using bottled ones. These are really great looking though, and your dessert is divine.

  17. Tartelette Says:

    I have some Mont blanc macarons setting right now!! I love when we make similar things because I can show the hubby and say “see, I am not a weirdo!”.
    My hat’s off to you for making your own marrons glaces. I have yet to meet 2 patisseries or artisans that make the same. Every year they feel and taste different.

  18. grace Says:

    Hi! I have a family of kids who adore candied chestnuts, so have been making them at home, with greater or lesser success, for a number of years. A couple of things that work for me: 1) the all time best way to peel chestnuts is to score them on the bottom and then pop them in the microwave, no more than 5 at a time, for 25 seconds. When they come out, the skins have JUST steamed off, and the internal nut is not cooked. It works perfectly, but don’t try to do more at a time, since you can only peel about five before they cool and get too hard to manage. 2) My second tip is to soak them in cold water overnight before starting to cook them; I’ve done them without soaking, but somehow soaking produced more uniform product (or, it was just a good batch of nuts that time, who knows?!). The cooking prior to syrup stage is where recipes tend to diverge. Some recipes suggest that you need to boil them, so as to get water into the nuts, which is later replaced by syrup. I’m afraid that will pull too many nuts apart, and the large amounts of waste is, i believe, why they’re so damned expensive!. Anyway,I am going to try my next batch sous vide, in the hopes that that will keep from falling apart, but break down the structure sufficiently to absorb the syrup. (Does ANYONE know a sous vide recipe for them?). And finally, for the syrup stage, I just boil ‘em in syrup for a couple of minutes, turn off under the pot, leave it on the stove, and 5-8 hours later turn the fire back on, bringing them to a boil, then off again. I do this four or five times (if the syrup gets too thick, just add a little water. If you use pure cane syrup, you’re a little less likely to get crystalization, but i’ve never had a big problem with that anyway). I’d love any other tips! (is it rude to write so much on a blog? this is my first time!)

  19. Karen Says:

    Grace: Thank you for your tips on candied chestnuts! I’m not sure if I’ll attempt making them again, but if I do, I’ll definitely keep your method in mind. :)

  20. Charmaine Says:

    Wow, your pics are gorgeous! I stumbled across yr blog while looking for macaron recipes. You might be interested to know that Pastry Chef Steven Ong from Centre Ps is conducting a macaron workshop at the National Museum on 12 April. I’m sure he’ll have tips abt marron glaces!

  21. mia Says:

    Hi Karen,
    First time to visit in ur blog. My heart pumps up when i saw ur macaroon. would u share which book u adapted the recipe for macaroons please.

    Thanks
    Mia

  22. Patricia Shea Says:

    Hello and thank you for your BEAUTIFUL blog, your desserts are so perfect I would almost have a hard time eating them…but I know I could always be persuaded. How great you made your own marron glaces, I ate them a lot when I was little and have very fond memories of them but I bet it would be hard to glace them easily, I have found chestnuts to be really inconsistent in their texture even if you are just roasting them so well done…the macarons look spectacular! Patricia

  23. Ruliyah Jambri Says:

    hi Karen,
    wondering if u will be holding any macaroons classes anytime soon
    thks

    Ruliyah

  24. Janine Says:

    Hi..your website is quite a beaut! Colorful delicious pictures are to drool over; however, I was lookin for the bread crumbs to the recipes…and sad to find no gold pot at the end. Were u going to post recipes or leave it as a mysterious blog? ;o)

  25. Catherine Says:

    Hi Karen. I too am a little adventurous with cooking and had some difficulty in peeling chestnuts. I am about to try making Marron Glace using canned chestnuts. If the method (microwave) works I will let you know.

  26. ella Says:

    hi..the pics of the macarons look absolutely divine..mind sharing the recipe?:)

  27. Yvespaul Says:

    Amazing blog, you’re extremely talented and I’m so jealous of that. I don’t know if you’ve thinking about using already cooked and peeled whole chestnuts. I’d be incline to attempt creating a mont blanc with them. They are cheap and much less hassle. You can get them in Asian grocery stores.

    Thanks for all the inspiration.

  28. Adriana Says:

    Hi Karen

    Me and my colleague would like to learn how to make macarons.

    Can you conduct class for just both of us?

    If yes, could you please email me

    Thanks!!

  29. Vicki Says:

    hi Karen,
    I love your website. Thank you for sharing. I have recently began my obsession with these macarons and have began making them. I wanted to dust some of them with food coloring…When you be the best time time??? right after you piped them or before you put them in the oen? Thank you so much.

  30. Erika Says:

    Such lovely macarons! I’ve recently afflicted with the macaron obsession disease as well and had made 4 tries so far, but none of them turned out as lovely as yours…not sure what went wrong. What is the recipe that you’ve used in making such perfect-looking shells? Could you please email me a copy of the recipe if possible? Thank you.

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