This is a classic, so you'll want to make it again and again! If you've got a day off, enjoy yourself and spend the day making these, but if you've got work, start the process in the evening. These are best eaten the next day.
Chestnuts (the freshest, biggest ones you can get)
Sugar (a mixture of castor sugar (superfine sugar) and raw cane sugar)
Get the biggest chestnuts possible, because they're easier to peel. Wash the chestnuts carefully, and throw out any that have been nibbled on by insects.
Cover the chestnuts with boiling water, and leave to soak for several hours (I soaked them for 2 hours this time), or until they have cooled down enough to touch. I prefer not to boil them.
Remove the outer shell. Cut into the shell starting from around the border between the rough part on the bottom and the smooth part upwards, then peel off.
If the bottom of the chestnut is flat, start the cut where it begins to curve. You don't have to remove the whole bottom part of the skin at this point.
It took me about 30 minutes to peel 1 kg of chestnuts. Soak the peeled chestnuts in water.
Put the chestnuts in a pot with water to cover. Add baking soda and turn the heat on. When the water comes to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. The chestnuts shouldn't be bouncing around and bumping into each other in the pot. The cooking liquid will turn pitch black.
Put the pot in the sink, and leave the water running from the tap in a slow stream near the edge of the pot for 30 minutes. Don't let the chestnuts roll around in the pot!
A key point! Using your fingers and a toothpick, remove dirt on the surface of the chestnut, and take off any thick fibers as well as the bottom part that was left earlier.
When the chestnuts are nice and smooth, put them back in a pot full of water. Even if the skin has ripped a bit, if you handle the chestnuts gently, they'll be fine!
Simmer for another 30 minutes, and then cool in running water again like step 7. Repeat until the cooking liquid is red, 1 to 2 times.
Put the sugar and chestnuts in a pot with water to cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Leave the chestnuts to cool in the liquid.
The chestnuts can be stored in sterilized jars for a while, or in a plastic container in the refrigerator for a few days. Any broken ones can be made into a paste and frozen.
Story Behind this Recipe
I make this several times every year. I came up with this method after a lot of trial and error.
Use a knife you're used to handling to cut through the outer skin. As long as you're patient enough to remove the outer skins, the rest of the procedure is just a matter of time. I got the chestnuts at 9AM and poured them into jars at 4PM. If you make the chestnuts as smooth as possible in steps 8 and 9, you should only need to repeat the boiling and cooling steps once. The first time you make this, do it on a day off when you have time.