Archive for October 3rd, 2013

Reviving marrons glacés

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013
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2013-09-28 13.25.21

Good with my morning coffee.

Some of you may remember my passionate encounter with marrons glacés last winter, and the Proustian rites associated with them.  Imagine my dismay when my daughter and her significant other rejected the small bag I had brought back from Paris’s oldest bakery, the Boulangerie Pâtisserie au Grand Richelieu, right around the corner from my little walk-up on the Rue des Petits Champs.  They were tearful and repentent … but they couldn’t get the hang of them. Chestnuts, after all, are not an American thing.  Or certainly not much of a thing for the under-30s.

By time I retrieved the few remaining marrons glacés (they had tried, and tried again, to like them … in vain, in vain), some months had already gone by.  So what was I to do with leftovers, worth $2 apiece, with the price rapidly dropping as they dried out day after day? There was nothing for it but to leave them in my fridge for another 8 or 9 months as I puzzled what to do.

2013-09-28 08.46.59

Not so hard after all.

Finally, I bravely pulled up the recipe I had bookmarked from the Epicurian Table here.  Could I refresh them by putting them through the same process again?  I boiled, I stirred (that’s my finger in photo at right), I let rest for 24 hours and tried again, I baked for 2 hours in a slightly open oven. Voilà!  It worked. Or it seemed to. They weren’t quite as fresh, and the chestnuts seemed to have jellied a bit with the additional cooking but… definitely edible.  And not all that difficult.  Besides, I seem to have forgotten how they tasted last winter … nothing to do except to go back to Paris and refresh my memory.

But here’s the bad news: they’ll never taste the same as the ones I brought home with me.  Grand Richelieu, to the shock of French people the world over, closed its doors just after I left … was it something I said?  No!  Landlords increased the rent from 18,000 euros ($22,860) per year to 35,000 euros ($44,450) per year.

Baker Claude Esnault, who has run Grand Richelieu for 43 years, decided to pack it up.  You can read about it here and here.  “It’s the end.  A sad end,” he said. The new owners will sell sweets, not baguettes. A modern version of “Let them eat cake!”

Grand Richelieu had been in business for more than two hundred years – Napoleon could have come in, and ordered a whole-wheat baguette. And it’s almost certain that I was the very last to have a marron glacé from this pâtisserie. Video of a long tradition below: