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Marrons Glacés

Christmas in France is celebrated around food and family. And a popular festive season treat are marrons glacé or candied chestnuts. Although some people cheat on the cooking process, a true marron glacé takes several days to cook from start to finish, making it an expensive delicacy.

The recipe appears to have emerged in the 16th century, around Lyon. Chestnuts are peeled and blanched to remove their fibrous membranes before being soaked in a sugar syrup. The syrup and chestnuts are periodically heated to encourage absorption of the syrup, and when all of the syrup has evaporated or been absorbed, the chestnuts are dried.

The finished product is a chestnut with an outer coating of sugar and a rich, candied interior. Traditional marrons glacés are displayed in gold-foil wrappers in the storefront windows of chocolate shops and other confectionery outlets.

Marrons glacés gained their crown at the end of 17th century, in Louis XIV's Versailles court. In 1667, le Sieur Francois Pierre La Varenne, Chef de cuisine for ten years to Nicolas Chalon du Blé, Marquis of Uxelles (not very far from Lyon and a chestnut-producing area), and foremost figure of the Nouvelle Cuisine movement of the time, published his best-seller book Le parfaict confiturier. In it he describes "la façon de faire marron pour tirer au sec (the way to make a chestnut so as to 'pull it dry'). This appears to be the first record of the recipe for marrons glacés.

Towards the end of 19th century, Lyon was sufferring with the collapse of silk and the textile market. In the middle of an epidemic, Clément Faugier was looking for a way to revitalize the regional economy. In 1882 he and a local 'confiseur' set up the first factory with the technology to industrially produce the marrons glacés. Many of the twenty steps needed to make these delights from harvest to the finished product are still accomplished manually.