Some days ago I was searching for my weekly Tuscan recipe, when suddenly an idea came to my mind. 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.
As soon as it is on your tongue, the powdery consistency will melt down and a sweet taste of chestnut will immediately spread, tickling the memories… a little girl with a light blue quilted jacket, wool gloves on her little hands, a white paper cone and 1.000 lire of roasted chestnuts, lights form the shops, her parents and a sweet chestnut flavour.
December is the best period to buy chestnut flour, as the chestnuts are hand picked, dried for forty days over a fire fed by chestnut wood, then ground in local stone mills.
The castagnaccio you can find in my area – Siena and Val d’Elsa – is enriched with raisins and pine nuts. The typical recipe from Garfagnana mixes the orange peel aroma with the richness of walnuts.
- 500 g chestnut flour
- 800 ml water
- 40 g pine nuts
- 150 g raisins
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1 pinch salt
- Extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Soak the raisins in warm water.
Sift the chestnut flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the water in a thin stream, stirring continuously to avoid lumps. Continue to add the water until you have a smooth and liquid batter, autumnal brown and warm. It is supposed to be as liquid as a pancake batter. Add half of the pine nuts and half of the well squeezed raisins and stir again.
Grease with extra virgin olive oil a rectangular baking-pan, about 25 x 40 cm large, and scrape in the chestnut batter.
Sprinkle with the remaining pine nuts and raisins the surface and add the rosemary needles.
Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and bake for about 35 minutes until the chestnut cake is firm and covered with wrinkles, crisp on the outside and soft inside. You can eat it warm or cold.