Sweet chestnut trees (Castanea sativa) flourish in Southern Europe and their chestnuts have long formed a part of the diet of the rural peoples. Castagnaccio is a chestnut flour cake found in the northern regions of Italy. Traditionally made in the autumn after the fallen chestnuts had been collected, dried, and ground into flour. The fresh chestnut flour of the autumn has a sweet, rich earthy flavor that combines well with the sweet raisins, pine nuts and olive oil. The resulting cake is dense, moist and rich with a distinctive chestnut taste and only mildly sweet with a slight aromatic sent from the rosemary.
This is the result of my first experiment with using chestnut flour. The chestnut flour is from Shipton Mill (£3 for 500g) in the Cotswold and is organic and gluten free. The chestnuts are sourced directly from a small hill farm in hills in the Ardeche region of Southern France. The flour is also only available seasonally over the autumn and winter months.
- 125g of chestnut flour (3/4 cup or 4 1/2 ounces)
- 40g of raisins (1/4 cup or 1 1/2 ounces)
- 20g of pine nuts (3 tablespoons or 2/3 ounces)
- 200ml of water or milk (3/4 cup)
- 15g of extra virgin olive oil (1 1/2 tablespoons or 1/2 ounce)
- 25g of sugar (2 tablespoons or 1 ounce)
- A pinch of sea salt
- A few rosemary needles
- Heat the oven to 180C (350F).
- Soak the raisins in water to soften them while preparing the other ingredients.
- Brush a 6 inch cake tin with a little olive oil to stop the cake sticking.
- In a bowl whisk together the chestnut flour, sugar, and salt and then gradually add the water until the batter reaches a consistency similar to pancake batter, then add the olive oil beating as you add it in.
- Squeeze the water out of the raisins and then stir half of the raisins and pine nuts into the batter
- Pour the batter into a 6 inch cake tin and sprinkle the remaining raisins and pine nuts over the top with a few rosemary leaves.
- Bake at 180 degrees Celsius until little cracks appear across the top like parched earth, this took about 30 minutes.
Milk can be used in place of the water in this recipe producing a cake that is sweeter and more moist. This recipe produces quite a small cake that makes enough for two as a desert but can easily be doubled or more and a larger cake tin used. This cake can be made in a wider tin to make it thin and crispy or in a smaller tin so it is thicker and moist inside, I chose a smaller tin to make a thicker cake. As the cake does not rise during cooking, the depth of the batter in the tin will be the thickness of the final cake. If the batter is too runny leave it to stand to ten minutes and the batter will thicken up as the flour soaks up some of the liquid.
This recipe was based on the following recipes by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the Guardian, Sarah Commerford on the blog Whats Cooking in Your world and Kathryn McGowan on the blog Comestibles. My recipe makes a smaller cake than these and has more pine nuts and raisins.