Friday, 6 November 2009

Christmas Sweets and Treats – Marrons Glacés and Crémant d'Alsace

Marrons Glacés are chestnuts candied in sugar syrup and glazed. Candied chestnuts appeared in the chestnut growing areas North of Italy and South of France shortly after the crusaders brought sugar back with them from the Middle East. The earliest recorded recipes for them were written by the French and Marrons Glacés were a favourite of Louis XIV's Versailles court. The oldest recipe was written in 1667, by Le Sieur François Pierre La Varenne, Chef de cuisine to Nicolas Chalon du Blé, Marquis of Uxelles (not very far from Lyon and a chestnut producing area) in his book Le Parfaict Confiturier.

The difference between a chestnut and a marron has been a subject of discussion - especially at commercial level. Often marron is used to define very large chestnuts or, as in the case of the French, used to classify chestnuts which do not have signs of the pellicle (membrane) which covers the seed in the kernel or which have a low division percentage. After thousands of years of breeding many varieties are also sweeter. These are the material for Marrons Glacés which are three or four times more expensive than the chestnut (châtaigne in French) because they also have a lower yield. In Italy marron means a particular Castanea sativa cultivar of excellent quality. Of oblong shape, with a reddish coloured epicarp (skin) that is shiny with dense, often with raised stripes.

Marrons Glacés

2 lbs chestnuts, shells removed
2 lbs sugar
2 ½ cups water
1 vanilla bean

In a large saucepan, cover chestnuts with water. Bring to a boil. Boil for 8 minutes. Discard liquid. Drain. Using a kitchen towel, rub off the brown inner skins. In a large saucepan, cook sugar, water and vanilla bean over low heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Simmer 5 minutes. Add chestnuts. Increase heat. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove vanilla bean. Pour syrup and nuts into a large bowl. Let stand 12 hours. Return to pan. Boil for 1 minute. Return to bowl. Let stand 24 hours. Repeat process 3 times until syrup has been absorbed.Preheat oven to 150ºF. Place chestnuts on wire rack. Bake in preheated oven with oven door open 2 hours or until firm. Remove from oven. Cool. Store in a container lined with waxed paper. Will keep for up to 2 weeks.

The sparkling wines of Alsace are a great choice when looking for something special to pair with sweetmeats. The Adam Crémant d'Alsace Chardonnay Extra Brut (£12.49) is a dazzling wine with a fine mousse of creamy bubbles. It has notes of melon, lemon, ripe pear and toast and is crisp and effervescent. It is a medium weighted sparkling wine with a dry, robust finish and although excellent as an aperitif it can accompany rich and sweet dishes. This Crémant d'Alsace comes from the House of Jean-Baptiste Adam, founded in 1614, in the Alsace village of Ammerschwihr. There are few families that can take advantage of 4 centuries of passion for wine and this has been carried through to recent times with bio dynamic policies being practised in the vineyards since 2003.

Enjoy!

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