Sunday, March 1, 2009


Castagnaccio is a chestnut cake/bread that comes from Tuscany but can be found in pasticcerie all over Italy. It is an Autumn sort of a food and is usually covered in nuts, but when it isn't it can be easy to mistake for a chocolate cake, so be careful!

If castagnaccio is an Autumn sort of a food, then what am I doing baking it in March? Well, procrastination partly, but to be fair, I couldn't have baked this until at least January because I didn't have any chestnut flour until I went to Italy, and chestnut flour is pretty essential in this recipe!

Though chestnut flour seems to be non-existent in America, in Italy people use it to make all sorts of things - bread, pasta, sweets, and so on. It gives food a wonderfully rich flavor - both sweet and meaty - that is especially satisfying in Autumn and Winter. Supposedly, the best chestnut flour can be had around November when the chestnuts have been freshly picked (gathered?) and are at their sweetest; however, if your chestnut flour comes from another time of year it will still be fine - you just might want to consider adding some more sugar if you're making something sweet.

For this castagnaccio, I used no sugar at all in the dough, and it was still sweet and cake-like. I wasn't even really sure if I should put this in the category of sweets, since it's right on the borderline between sweet and savory. In any case, it's incredibly easy to make, and it's just the sort of thing you would want to nibble on around 4:30 in the afternoon, while you sip a nice cup of tea.

300 g chestnut flour
A small spoonful of salt
A handful of raisins
50 g walnuts
50 g pine nuts
Olive oil

Heat a small pot of water until the water starts to boil. Turn off the heat and sprinkle in a spoonful or two of sugar and a healthy dose of cinnamon. Add the raisins and let sit for awhile. This is my particular way of plumping raisins - all the recipes I saw simply called for the raisins to be plumped in plain old hot water, but I like the addition of cinnamon and sugar as it adds sweetness without being overwhelming.

Preheat your oven to 350ºF / 180ºC. Chop the walnuts into smallish chunks, though not too small, and pour a bit of olive oil into a baking pan so that it covers the bottom and sides thoroughly.

Sift the chestnut flour into a bowl to get rid of any clumps. Chestnut flour can be quite clumpy, so be quite thorough in your sifting. Mix in the salt and then add some cold water, a bit at a time, mixing well after each addition. Continue adding water until you have a liquidy dough/batter. Once again, make sure there are no clumps in it.

Once your dough/batter is ready, add in the raisins and then pour the mixture into the baking pan. Cover the top with the walnut bits and the pine nuts. Add a drizzling of olive oil and finally the rosemary (use a fresh sprig if you have one - I didn't so I just sprinkled dried rosemary over everything). Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place in the oven to bake.

After about 15 minutes, remove the pan, uncover it, and return it to the oven. It will probably need to bake another 15 minutes or so after this, but check it from time to time to make sure the nuts don't burn. When the nuts have browned, the castagnaccio is done. Take it out of the oven, let cool, and serve.

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