Photo by Stacey Ballis

Kinda nuts, huh?

Stacey Ballis
June 06, 2018

Most kids take to peanut butter like it's their job, and I was no different. Made no matter to me if it was extra creamy or super chunky, I was not brand loyal or fussy, peanut butter made me happy. Sandwiches with jam or sliced banana or honey. Celery sticks stuffed to the gills with it, sometimes with raisins, sometimes plain. Frankly, large spoonfuls right out of the jar when Mom wasn’t looking were a regular occurrence.

When I was nine, I did a mini exchange program to Paris with my elementary school and spent a month living with a host family. I came home with a permanent case of Francophilia, an Eiffel Tower keychain, many pictures of myself at the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles like my hero Eloise, and four giant tubs of Nutella in my suitcase. Nutella had not yet hit the States in 1979, but my daily Parisian snack of a length of baguette generously slathered with the chocolaty hazelnut spread had become a deep passion. And for the brief time that those four jars lasted—not nearly long enough—it completely replaced peanut butter in my rotation. We scraped those jars clean and then returned to peanut butter, not disappointed, but occasionally missing the new flavor.

Lucky for everyone Nutella finally jumped the pond and is now readily available to anoint your toast and swirl into your brownies and stuff your muffins. And I love it no less now than I did nearly 40 years ago when I first tasted it. It was this joint love of peanut butter and Nutella that brought me to my new pal, chestnut cream.

Crème de marrons is a paste made of cooked chestnuts and sometimes a bit of sugar. It has the looser consistency of Nutella, is more nut-forward, like peanut butter, but with a little bit of sophistication and elegance that neither of the others really possess. And it can go nearly anywhere those two rascals go with equal success. It is great smeared on toast. Makes amazing sandwiches with a variety of jams and preserves, I particularly love it with fig jam or apricot preserves. Have a peanut butter frosting you love on your cupcakes? Swap out the PB for chestnut cream and watch it go next level. Try a smear of the stuff sandwiched between two layers of cake instead of a jam layer or frosting. I love it stuffed into crepes, dolloped into the center of thumbprint cookies, and swirled over vanilla ice cream or mixed into my yogurt.

But crème de marrons also can go savory beautifully, stirred into rich soups, or adding a bit of je ne sais quoi to a sauce or stew. It is great friends with chickpeas and can really amp up your hummus game with a subtle backnote that you won’t readily identify, but will make your crudités very happy indeed.

Chestnut cream can be found usually in the baking aisle, in jars, cans or small tubes. If your grocery store doesn’t carry it, Amazon has a great selection. You might need to try a couple brands till you find the one that is your favorite, usually has to do with the amount of sugar in them that most affects the flavor profile, but it is a delicious experiment to find the one that is just right for you. Now spread the word.

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