Note: Since this post was first published on 31/12/2011, I’ve tried a few more brands of marron glacés. I’ve added more pictures and notes to the original post so please scroll down to read the new content. Thanks!
When I was lining up at Bernachon last week, I finally caved and bought one of those individually wrapped marron glacé, candied chestnuts. As expected, it was a bit sweet but I was surprised by the addicting dense bite it had. The chestnut flavour was also quite well-preserved. It was delicious.
After returning to Paris and reminiscing about that marron glacé from Bernachon, Nelson and I decided to seek out the best marron glacé in Paris. Since he was planning to buy a box home as a souvenir, we decided that doing some research would be well worth it. After all, they do come at a hefty price of €2-4 per chestnut.
So why so expensive you ask? Well, first of all, only the largest and highest quality marrons are chosen to be sold as individual marron glacé. The candying process can take days and sometimes weeks of cooking and soaking in sugar syrups of different concentrations. Before candying, the shell and skin are carefully hand removed to keep the chestnuts whole. The grooves in the chestnuts make it hard to remove the thin membrane (skin) that adheres to the chestnut inside the shell. Then, you have to eliminate the imperfect looking ones, and those with deep grooves which will break the chestnut into pieces during the candying process.
In total, we tried 13 different brands, beginning with Bernachon and Tourtiller in Lyon, and La Maison du Chocolat, Jean Paul Hevin, Ladurée, Pierre Hermé, Café Pouchkine (inside Printemps), Jacques Genin, Sadaharu Aoki, Lenôtre, Henri Le Roux, Patrick Roger, and one from my corner boulangerie (€2.50 per piece). We analyzed each in their appearance, texture, taste, and even packaging quality. Although they don’t taste too different from one another, we found our favourite ones to have a strong chestnut flavour, a dense bite, and not being overly sweet.
So far, our favourites have been Bernachon (€2.60 per piece) and Jacques Genin (€4 per piece). Unfortunately, we didn’t taste both of these on the same day so we can’t say which was better for certain. Here are our notes and photos from our research.
These tiny gold and silver packaged delicacies pop up in most confiserie and pâtisserie in late fall and winter when chestnuts are in season. Here are the 5 brands we tried on the same day. First up, La Maison du Chocolat.
Here's the marron glacé from La Maison du Chocolat. It was one of the smaller ones, and also not the best looking one. You don't see the nice shallow grooves that they are supposed to have. The packaging was my favourite, a bronze tinted textured foil paper that unwrapped nicely. It was also one of the cheaper ones, at €2.60 per piece.
For taste, we found the flavour of icing sugar to be most prominent. There was a crunchy glaze covering the chestnut. It's got a good dense bite to it, but overall it was too sweet and lacked in chestnut flavour.
Next up, Jean Paul Hevin, coming in at €3.20 per piece. It was a medium sized chestnut. The packaging was poor and didn't unwrap nicely (bad adhesive) and there was no cardboard base for the chestnut.
As for taste, it had the most chestnut flavour of the 5 we tasted on the same day. It did have a heavy coat of crunchy glaze, but on the whole, it wasn't too sweet.
Here's the marron glacé from Jean Paul Hevin cut in half.
Onto Ladurée, at €3.10 per piece. Good packaging, there was a cardboard base for the chestnut.
As for taste, I felt it didn't live up to its name. I would rate this similar to the one from La Maison du Chocolat.
The marron was covered with a crunchy glaze. Again, the chestnut flavour was lost in the taste of the icing sugar. This one, however, did have the most memorable dense bite to it. From Laduree.
Next up, marron glacé from Pierre Hermé at €3.20 per piece. Good packaging, unwrapped nicely, had a cardboard base.
This was one of the prettier marron glacé, partly due to having a wet glaze. You can see the nice grooves on the surface of the chestnut.
On taste, it was quite sweet but the sweetness did not have the flavour of icing sugar which was nice. It's too bad that the chestnut flavour was a bit lacking as well. The texture was softer than the others.
And finally, the last marron glacé of that day. From Café Pouchkine, at €3.40 per piece. Poor packaging again, did not unwrap nicely due to bad adhesive, like the one from Jean Paul Hevin.
This one wins the prize for the most beautiful marron glacé. You can see the characteristic shallow grooves that run from the base of the marron to its tip. This is what differentiates a true marron from a regular chestnut which has deep grooves that cause the chestnut to break apart when cooked and handled.
As for taste, it was unfortunate that the flavour of icing sugar was again more prominent than the taste of chestnut. That being said, it wasn't the sweetest one and it did have a good texture and bite to it.
On a another day, we bought a marron glacé from Jacques Genin. These were the most expensive, at €4 per piece. When I bought it, I thought in my mind, this better be good. And it was.
Average packaging, didn't unwrap as nicely as some of the others due to the adhesive but it did have a cardboard base. It was one of the larger chestnuts that we sampled. It was covered in a thin, wet glaze.
As for flavour, it had the most chestnut flavour of all that we sampled except for maybe Bernachon. I'd have to try that one again to really say who's the winner. It was moist and sticky without being too sweet. No taste of icing sugar here. As for texture, it had a nice dense bite to it.
Note: The following content below was added on February 5, 2012.
When I heard that my friends were going to Lyon for the weekend, I took up this opportunity to ask them for a favour. LN brought me back some some Bernachon marron glacés (€2.60 per piece) and chocolate bars, thanks! After tasting their chestnuts for a second time, I can surely say that this one is definitely my favourite.
Bernachon's marron glacés comes in gold paper-foil packaging that is easy to unwrap. However, there is no base for the chestnut. Compared to the others, it's average in size and appearance. You can see there's a slightly deep groove on the bottom of the chestnut.
The Bernachon marron is covered in a thin, crunchy glaze. There's no taste of icing sugar. It has a very good dense bite and it's also moist and very smooth in texture. Although it's sweet, the chestnut flavour is the most pronounced and well-preserved of all that I've tried.
The next one is from Sadaharu Aoki (right). You can see in the picture just how big the Aoki marron glacés is. It's the largest and most beautiful of all the marron glacés for sure. It's no wonder they use a clear packaging to show it off.
As you can see, it's just beautiful with barely any grooves. It also looks quite different from the other chestnuts. As you can see, there are no shallow streaks like the other chestnuts. It's actually quite smooth on the surface which makes me wonder if it's a completely different type of chestnut used.
The Aoki marron glacé is covered in a crunchy, dry glaze without the taste of icing sugar. It's the least sweet of all that I've tried, but I found the texture a little dry and crumbly. Unfortunately, it also fell short on chestnut flavour. Overall, a bit disappointed by its taste given it's size and beauty.
Next, marron glacé from Lenôtre. It's wrapped in the typical gold paper-foil again.
There's no base for the chestnut. It's average in size and quite pretty. No deep grooves.
Lenôtre's has a thick, crunchy glaze which made it quite sweet. There is no taste of icing sugar and the chestnut flavour is well-preserved. The texture is soft and overall, it was better than the average.
While buying caramels at Henri Le Roux, I picked up a marron glacé to try as well.
Again, typical gold paper foil and a base for the chestnut. It's a good looking chestnut, no deep grooves.
It's got a wet glaze, not too sweet, but carries a slight taste of icing sugar and egg white. It has a medium bite with good chestnut flavour.
And finally, the last one I tasted was one from Patrick Roger, the chocolatier. The wrapping was the worst, unfortunately. It did not unwrap nicely (poor adhesive) and I had to rip the paper.
The chestnut, however, was quite large and decent looking. There's a few deep grooves.
It's covered in a wet glaze, not too sweet, and has no taste of icing sugar. The texture is soft and there's good chestnut flavour as well.