Chestnuts - Marrons
One market stall has extra-special products you don't find in most others, porcinis, chanterelles, quince apples and these extra large chestnuts. I guess the premium ones are called "marroni" (like the French "marrons") while the smaller chestnuts are "castagne". You see some of these still encased in their prickly covers. They're pretty, but brutally pointy!
On a recent hike in southern Switzerland, Gabriel picked a bunch of smaller chestnuts. When they fall from the trees, you have to step on them to get the painfully pointy cover off. Actually, on the way we passed through a town where aome men had organized an outdoor charcoal pit and were roasting about 1,000 chestnuts on it. Two of the men would get on either side of the roasting pan, take the long handles and shake the chestnuts up for even cooking. I smelled really really fall. Know what I mean? When we got home, I decided to boil my chestnuts since I thing it's easier to get theshells off that way. I made an x-shaped score in them with a knife and boiled them for 5-10 minutes (some were bigger than others and needed more cooking. After eating a couple, I remembered just how great they are with vanilla. I figured if I made caramel, added vanilla and then folded in the chestnuts, the result would be great! I followed this recipe which is full of hard, scientific information about how hard the caramel will be when cooked to different temperatures, why you should not stir the caramel, why you should wash down the sides of the pan, etc. It does not say anything about putting nuts in caramel or about what happens when you do. So I cooked the sugar, corn syrup and cream to actually over the prescribed 250F (the hard ball stage) and poured the caramel onto my marble pastry slab, mixed in the chestnut pieces and put everything in a square buttered cake pan to cool. Well, it's cool now. It's runny, almost like ice-cream topping and certainly nothing I could cut and wrap as candies. I'm thinking that the chestnuts, that really seemed dry and starchy, had enough moisture to make this too liquidy. Darn! At least it tastes good even if I do have to eat it with a spoon. As Julia Child said, cooking is great since you can eat your mistakes!