Spring must be arriving soon, as our local roasted chestnut stand finished up its season on Saturday. The stand had been open for business since November, marking the start of colder weather and the holiday season. I love the smell of roasted chestnuts, and even though I have to wait until next year to enjoy them again, the Swiss have another popular use for chestnuts that’s available almost all year long: vermicelles.
On the last day of roasted chestnut season, my boys and I bought a paper cone filled with the hot, sweet-smelling nuts. After removing the hard outer shell, you’ll find a warm chestnut inside with that distinct, yet mild flavor. The texture can be a bit dry and almost like paste, so a hot drink like mulled wine or tea makes a nice accompaniment. We brought our chestnuts to the park, and I snacked on them while the boys played on the slides.
From what I’ve read, Swiss chestnuts are primarily grown in Ticino, the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland. During the holiday season, Swiss Christmas markets often have a stand selling marrons chauds (hot roasted chestnuts). Beyond using chestnuts for roasting, they can also be ingredients in other food products, like beer, flour, pasta, jam and vermicelles—a popular Swiss dessert.
Before moving to Switzerland, I associated the word vermicelles with a thinner version of spaghetti tossed with tomato sauce, for example. Here in Switzerland, however, it can have an entirely different meaning—except the shape remains the same.
I noticed these noodle-like desserts in the grocery stores almost immediately after we moved here. You can find them as part of layered whipped cream desserts, little tarts or larger cakes. For some reason, I always imagined them being coffee-flavored though. Right before Christmas, I figured out that vermicelles were actually made of pureed roasted chestnuts, and these desserts always contain dairy. If a milk product isn’t mixed in with the chestnuts, then of course it’s in the whipped cream.
Finally in November of last year, I purchased my first vermicelles from our local patisserie, and now I’m a fan. The combination of chestnut and whipped cream with pastry was sweet and nutty and smooth. After trying to make my own marron purree—which was a ton of work and not properly executed—I was thrilled to find a tube of ready-made vermicelles at Coop, made by Hero, that’s dairy and egg-free.
I had leftover puff pastry from last week’s gâteau aux noisettes, so I made two little round circles and baked them for about 25-30 minutes. After they cooled, I squirted out a nest of vermicelles on top. Honestly, this took a long time because I wasn’t using the tube properly. Thankfully, this video helped me figure out how to do it! I topped it all off with some soy whipped cream mixed with vanilla sugar and powdered sugar and some mini-chocolate chips from Enjoy Life.
Unfortunately, our little guy was sick with a stomach bug when I made vermicelles, so he didn’t have an appetite for anything—even dessert! I’ll likely be making them again soon. It’s so nice having a quick and allergy-friendly way to do it.