Some days ago I was searching for my weekly Tuscan recipe when suddenly an idea came to my mind. The season is changing. When I come back home the smell of fireplace is lingering around, it is getting cold and in Siena, the first roast chestnut vendors are popping at every corner.
It’s time for a traditional chestnut cake, castagnaccio, as we call it.
If you want to bake a good castagnaccio – the Tuscan chestnut cake – depends almost exclusively on the flour you use. Since you do not add sugar to the batter, the chestnut flour should be sweet and tasty on its own, and that’s the reason it is known as farina dolce, sweet flour. In Tuscany, we have a renowned DOP flour, Farina di Neccio della Garfagnana.
The first time you taste it, castagnaccio’s floury texture melts in your mouth along with its sweet chestnut flavour—a flavour that for we who grew up with it evokes memories of children in winter coats and woollen gloves, of a warm paper bag containing 1,000 lire’s worth of roasted chestnuts, the shop lights seen from the street with mother and father, and the sweet taste of this timeless winter treat. Talk of castagnaccio among Tuscans can quickly turn into a heated discussion, as every area uses a different kind of dried fruit and different herbs and spices.
December is the best period to buy chestnut flour, as the chestnuts are handpicked, dried for forty days over a fire fed by chestnut wood, then ground in local stone mills.
Castagnaccio, the Tuscan chestnut cake
Castagnaccio is an ancient recipe, a dessert that speaks to the Tuscan peasant woman’s triumph over poverty and hunger. The simplest version involves a basic mix of chestnut flour, water, oil and rosemary, resulting in a cake with an almost biting, smoky flavour and a texture similar to bread pudding. And yet castagnaccio is in some ways a surprisingly modern dessert. It contains no sugar and is naturally gluten and lactose-free. More elaborate versions call for dried fruit and raisins to be added along with its fundamental ingredient, of course: chestnut flour. Its name derives from castagna, the Italian word for chestnut.
Have a look also at this Christmas version of castagnaccio from the blog archive.
Castagnaccio, Tuscan chestnut cake
- 50 g raisins
- 1 tablespoon vinsanto
- 250 g chestnut flour
- 400 ml water
- 1 pinch fine sea salt
- 20 g pine nuts
- 50 g walnuts
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and soak the raisins in warm water with a tablespoon of vinsanto.
- Add the chestnut flour and salt to a bowl. Pour in the water a little at a time, stirring continuously to prevent lumps.
- Add the squeezed raising and half of the pine nuts and walnuts, then stir again.
- Grease a 10-inch/26 cm round baking dish with plenty of extra virgin olive and pour in the batter.
- Sprinkle with the remaining pine nuts and walnuts, then add the rosemary needles.
- Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until the chestnut cake is dry on the top and covered with fine lines. You can eat it warm or cold.