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.
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.
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.
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.
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!