Chestnut flour cake

Chestnut flour cake

Castagnaccio

By
From
Acquacotta
Makes
1 cake, serv es 8
Photographer
Emiko Davies; Lauren Bamford

Castagnaccio is often called a ‘cake’ in English translations but it’s really somewhere between a slice and a dense, thick crêpe (for a real ‘chestnut cake’, I would see the one on). The smooth, dense texture of this ancient, rustic Tuscan delicacy is quite difficult to describe to those who have never come across it before. I can only compare it to Japanese sweets, such as yokan (which is made of azuki bean paste), which I gobbled up at any opportunity when I was a child (and I still do).

This is one of those dishes that you either love or hate. The flavour of chestnuts seems to be intensified in flour form, so you must love chestnuts to enjoy this. Most of the sweetness comes from the natural flavour of the ground, dried chestnuts and the sultanas, so it is not overly sweet. Ancient versions of this recipe don’t even include sugar (it would have been too much of a luxury for a peasant dish like this one), but today a few spoonfuls usually make their way in there and it is still, quite pleasingly, subtle.

On its own, castagnaccio is in its most rustic state, and eaten in small slices is perfect with a glass of vin santo (Tuscan dessert wine) or young red wine. You can transform it into a dessert by topping it with slightly sweetened whipped cream or some very fresh, slightly sweetened ricotta, whipped to make it fluffier – the ricotta version is my absolute favourite way to have it.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient

Castagnaccio

Quantity Ingredient
300g chestnut flour, sifted
2 tablespoons sugar, (optional)
pinch salt
500ml cold water
3 tablespoons olive oil
60g sultanas
40g pine nuts, (or walnuts)
1 rosemary sprig, leaves picked
1 orange, zested

Ricotta cream

Quantity Ingredient
250g ricotta
2 tablespoons sugar
1 lemon, finely grated zest

Method

  1. Combine the chestnut flour, sugar (if using) and salt in a bowl. Add the water, bit by bit, stirring with a wooden spoon or whisk to avoid lumps. You are looking for a batter that will run off the back of a spoon, much like pancake batter. Depending on the quality of the flour, you may need a little more or a little less water than called for to obtain this consistency.
  2. When smooth, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the orange zest to the batter and mix it in. Allow the mixture to rest at least 30 minutes (or overnight).
  3. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and line a 30 cm round pizza tray with baking paper. Alternatively, you can use a rectangular baking tray of similar dimensions.
  4. Soak the sultanas, nuts and rosemary in cold water for 15 minutes. Drain.
  5. Pour the batter into the round pizza tray (or rectangular baking tray). The batter should be not much more than 1 cm high. Evenly scatter over the sultanas and nuts, the rosemary leaves and the rest of the olive oil.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until you begin to see little cracks appear all over the top. Do not over-bake or it will become very dry. Let it cool in the pan, then cut it into wedges.
  7. To make the ricotta cream, whisk the ricotta, sugar and lemon zest together in a bowl. Chill until needed.
  8. Serve the castagnaccio on its own or with a dollop of ricotta cream. This is best on the day it is baked, so share it around. However, it does keep for a day in an airtight container at room temperature. It’s best not to store it in the refrigerator as it tends to get hard and rubbery when chilled.

Note

  • Try to use a tray similar to the dimensions given in the recipe. Otherwise, just be aware of the thickness as you are pouring the batter into the pan. If it’s too thin, it can come out too dry; too thick and it will be dense and, dare I say, claggy. (In Livorno they have a thicker version, which is known as toppone and is generally considered less refined than proper castagnaccio).
Tags:
Italian
Tuscany
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