Crème de marrons, chestnut cream, is a French pantry staple, but not very well known outside of France. It’s called a cream because of its thick, smooth texture, but there is no cream in crème de marrons. It’s a sweet, nutty brown spread with the deep, earthy flavor of roasted nuts and the burnt sugar taste of toffee. It’s absolutely addictive.
Almost 25 % of France is covered with chestnut forest, and for hundreds of years, wild chestnuts sustained the French peasantry in rugged regions where cereal would not grow. Chestnuts were boiled, baked or ground into flour for cakes or bread. Chestnuts were even used to make beer. Cultivated chestnuts, known as marrons, eventually became part the cuisine adorning the tables of the nobility and were stuffed into birds, mashed into purées and made into soups. But perhaps their best-known culinary incarnation is the marron glacé, candied chestnuts, one of France’s most famous sweets. Crème de marrons was originally developed to make use of the marrons broken during the complicated candy making process.
Today, Crème de Marrons is a product all on its own. In some cases, the chestnuts are already candied, in others the chestnuts are puréed and blended with sugar and vanilla. Chestnut cream is sold in tubes or pull-top cans and placed on the shelf next to the Nutella and confiture in most French grocery stores. Mainly it is eaten spread on morning toast or stirred into yogurt or fromage frais, but it can also be piped into éclairs, churned into ice-cream or baked into delicious desserts as in the recipe below.
There are a variety of brands, but the most popular in France is Faugier Crème de Marrons de L’Ardeche, sweetened chestnut cream created by Monsieur Clément Faugier himself. It is still being produced by the family business he established in the Ardèche, a region famous for chestnuts, more than a century ago. Outside of France, it can be purchased on-line and also in some high-end super-markets.
A 500 g (17.6 ounce) can of chestnut cream makes a truly fabulous dessert. This is a richly flavored cake with a fudge like texture. Usually the cake is done after 35 minutes but keep an eye on it after 30. It will sink a bit when you take it out of the oven — this is normal.
Chocolate Chestnut Cake
- 3 ½ ounces (100 g) dark chocolate (at least 60% cacao)
- 6 ounces (500 g) sweet chestnut cream (or 2 x 9 ounces cans)
- 4 eggs
- 9 tablespoons (125g) butter
- Pinch of salt
- 8 inch (22 cm) round cake pan
- Heat oven to 350 °F (180 ° C). Butter the cake pan and line with parchment paper. Separate the eggs.
- Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl, place over a pan of just simmering water and heat until melted. Remove from the heat, stir to combine and let cool.
- When the mixture is at room temperature, stir in the chestnut cream, then the egg yolks.
- Add a pinch of salt or cream of tartar to the egg whites and whip to stiff peaks. Fold 1/3 of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten up the batter and then fold in the rest. Pour the mixture into the prepared mold and bake 35 – 40 minutes or until set.
- Let cool before removing from the pan.
Charlotte Puckette is a Grand Diplôme graduate of Paris’s Le Cordon Bleu, co-author of The Ethnic Paris Cookbook, as well as a private chef, caterer, cooking instructor, food consultant, and hostess.