I've written about chestnuts before, specifically about buying them roasted on the street, as well as the blight that destroyed most of America's native chestnut varieties. But candied chestnuts, or marrons glace, make a once-a-year appearance during the holiday season and deserve some special attention.
Candied chestnuts are unique in that they are the only nut I can think of that gets prepared in such a way that causes them to take on a soft consistency. The texture is a little like that of a prune or dried apricot, with a slightly sweet flavor and mild nuttiness similar to sweet potatoes.
In France and Italy, Christmas seems to bring on chestnut fever, and marrons glace are a coveted gift. In some cases, the nuts are individually wrapped and foiled to preserve their beauty and form.
If you're not yet part of the cult of the candied chestnut, you might not know what to do when you're presented with a box. Here are some ideas:
Top the cheese:
Top a block of cream cheese with honey and candied chestnuts and serve with crackers or toasted pita bread.
Upgrade storebought cookie dough:
Make any sugar cookie more festive by adding chopped candied chestnuts to the batter. Some ground ginger would be great here too.
Enjoy some Christmas oatmeal:
Add some chopped candied chestnuts and a dash of cinnamon to your breakfast oats for a festive start to your day.
Go canape crazy:
Top a cracker with some Brie, a small square of smoky bacon, and top with a candied chestnut. Heat gently for some melty deliciousness.
Have a favorite banana bread recipe? Add 2 cups of chopped candied chestnuts to the batter and get ready for a luscious loaf that is perfect for Christmas morning!
Of course, maron glace purists would say that the best thing of all is to enjoy each precious candied chestnut on its own, perhaps with a cup of warm tea. To the uninitiated, this onslaught of chestnutttiness might be too much at first. I think it's more important to enjoy these treats in whatever way is easiest and to share their unique flavor with as many other eaters as possible.
Have any other ideas for enjoying candied chestnuts?
About the author: Lee Zalben was a PB&J-loving kid that grew up to be the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., which began as a Greenwich Village sandwich shop serving nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and expanded to include the now-famous line of all natural flavored peanut butter. Lee is a graduate of Vassar College and enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting foods made with peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. When he's not working, eating, flying or writing, he enjoys scuba diving and training elephants.