There are two types of eaters: People who love sweetened red-bean paste and those who loathe it. Growing up in an Asian culture that stuck in sweetened red bean paste in everything—mochi, sweet pudding porridge, ice cream, walnut shaped cookie, fish-shaped griddle cakes (you get the idea)—I assumed that everyone thought it was a delicacy! Actually, it turns out there is a whole segment of the world population which deeply resents its resemblance to chocolate, which can fool them into thinking it’s edible and delicious. Those people view it with suspicion and distaste.
Well, cream of chestnut (sweetened chestnut purée) sort of occupies the same territory. In France, one might pay an astronomical sum to get a well-made marron glacé (candied chestnut). Many in the U.S., however, wonder what all the fuss is about in the Christmas carol that talks about “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” They’ve tried it (once) and cannot understand the appeal. Asians follow the French in their adoration of chestnuts. We steam them, boil them, and (yes, indeed) roast them. We love chestnuts!
Thus, when we were in Paris last June, I squealed with delight when I saw in our local grocery a Bon Maman jar of “Confiture de Chataigne à la vanille.” I felt I’d won the lottery. And at less than 2 Euro for the jar, I could not resist. I got it, put it between several layers of socks and inside a Ziploc bag, and it came back with us. It’s a good thing too. Once we were done with it, I tried getting another jar. The price on Amazon for the same product? $15.49. Hurry, there are only 5 left!
I ended up ordering another brand for about $12, just to try something slightly different—also well reviewed. I enjoyed both Bon Maman and Clément Faugier versions, but I decided that I didn’t love them enough to continue to pay so much for them. Luckily for me, it turns out that my local grocery store (an ethnic produce market that specializes in Middle Eastern spices and fresh fish!) carries several brands of chestnut cream (though neither of the two famous brands I’ve already tried). There are definite perks of living in the big city!
If you can get your hands on some, try it. I brought a small jar of it to friends’ house for brunch and got heaps of praise and thanks for introducing them to something so tasty. (But Franny also said that she thought she’d died and gone to heaven when she first tasted sweetened red bean paste. I would say that your response to one might be reflective of your response to the other…)
What can you do with Cream of Chestnut?
· Topping on ice cream or—more often for us—yogurt.
· Spread on toast, or a slightly sweet roll, for breakfast.
· Mix in cakes—yes, Chestnut Cakes.
· As filling in dessert crepes, topped with whipped cream and a drizzle of caramel.
Speaking of which, I might decide to write a post on Marron Crepes soon!