This way of candying chestnuts—boiling them in a sugar syrup—originated in southern France and northern Italy around the 15th or 16th century. The first known recipe for them dates to Louis XIV's court at Versailles and the great chef La Varenne. They are a common treat during Christmas time and the New Year and make a wonderful Christmas gift or hostess present.
This easy recipe for homemade candied chestnuts calls for marroni, which are the larger, higher-quality chestnuts that are easier to peel. They are generally more expensive than smaller chestnuts (those that Italians call castagne), but they are less labor-intensive, and far more visually impressive.
- 2 1/4 pounds/1 kilogram marroni (large chestnuts)
- 1 pinch sea salt
- For the Syrup:
- 18 ounces/500 grams granulated sugar (a generous 2 cups)
- 4 cups/1 liter water
- Optional: 1 vanilla bean
Peel the chestnuts and add them to a large pot of boiling, lightly salted water. Boil for about 20 minutes, then remove the pot from the heat and let the chestnuts steep in the hot water for 5 minutes more.
Remove the chestnuts one at a time with a slotted spoon, peeling off the thin skin that covers the nuts, while being careful not to damage the nuts themselves (they'll be soft). Once you have skinned them, transfer the chestnuts to a wide, stainless-steel skillet.
To make the syrup, dissolve the sugar in the water in a large pot over low heat. Add the vanilla bean, if using, and simmer the syrup, stirring it gently with a wooden spoon, until the syrup thickens somewhat (you want it to remain fairly fluid).
Pour the syrup over the chestnuts; return pan to the stove and simmer over very low heat for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and let them sit for 10 minutes more.
Remove the chestnuts one at a time and arrange on a serving platter.
In addition to simply placing on a platter, you an also serve the candied chestnuts in small cups with a little of the syrup spooned over them. They are also delicious served with unsweetened whipped cream or sprinkled with brandy. If you'd like to give as gifts, pack into clear bags, glass jars, or small tins.
If you couldn't find the marroni chestnuts and are having trouble peeling the smaller type, you can employ one of two methods—roasting or steaming—to make the task easier. First, cut an "x" in one side of the nut. Then either roast the chestnuts for 30 minutes at 400 F, or steam the nuts over simmering water for about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly before peeling.