The next time you want to say thank you with a gift, opt for a box of candied chestnuts instead of a box of chocolate.
Candied chestnuts are a French specialty also known as Marrons Glacés. Simply put, they are chestnuts covered in sugar syrup made with a meticulous process no other confection can rival. Corsiglia, a family business that has been around since 1896, takes care and precision in handcrafting the perfect Marrons Glacés. It would be hard for your recipient to resist unraveling the gold foil that covers each of Corsiglia's little gems!
The history of chestnuts dates back to the Middle Ages, when the Roman legions first introduced them to the French. Since then, chestnuts have been a popular food of choice for grinding into flour or using as a meat substitute. It is said that even Charlemagne himself would drink wine with roasted chestnuts! In the 17th century, Sir Pierre François de Varenne published a book called Le parfaict confiturier (The Perfect Confectioner). The book details the recipe he used to prepare candied chestnuts for Louis XIV's Versailles court. He would warm dried chestnuts in the fireplace with sweetened water to give them a glazed coat. Due to the extensive time and labor required to make this delicacy, it is one of the pricier candies found in French patisseries. For a while, it was considered a luxury confection made for the elites. Now, Marrons Glacés are eaten by many during holiday seasons and special occasions.
Marron in Marron Glacé refers to the type of chestnut used to make this French treat. While the chestnut we usually snack on has two or more halves, Marron is only one piece. A single nut means it will stay uniform during the cooking process. When it comes to chestnuts, Corsiglia sources only the best from Turin or Naples. Turin chestnut trees produces some of the sweetest chestnuts out there but has a low yield. Chestnuts from Naples have a naturally grilled flavor.
Collecting chestnuts for making Marrons Glacés is a stringent process; harvesters must trek into the deep forests of Italy during the fall to pick and sort the fruits.
Chestnuts are first immersed in lightly salted water for 9 days, then placed in a cellar to dry for an additional three weeks. Damaged chestnuts are filtered out in this process. The next step would be to carefully peel and slit the chestnuts before steaming, which removes the first layer of skin. If any pieces of skin remain, they will be removed by hand during the inspection. Treating them like jewels, Corsiglia hand wraps the chestnuts in tulle muslin, a type of soft cloth before boiling them in spring water. The cooked chestnuts are then covered in syrup made of coarse white sugar, MGO-free wheat glucose and crushed Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla beans for 7 to 10 days.
During this time, the chestnuts go through a repetitive process of cooking with the mixture or sitting in it until all the syrup has evaporated. Here, the tulle muslin also limits the amount of sugar absorption so the true flavor of the chestnuts can still prevail. Finally, the tulle muslin is removed and the chestnuts are coated with a fine layer of syrup and laid out to dry in the warm oven. The result is a delicately glazed Marron Glacé ready for indulging!