Castagnaccio is a rustic poor man's cake made with chestnut flour (the Italian for chestnut is castagna). It's a preparation from the Liguria region of Italy. This cake is also very common in nearby Tuscany. It’s not a soft, open textured cake; quite the opposite. It is not as sweet as you would expect for a cake because castagnaccio does not contain sugar (however some people like to dust some icing sugar over the top when it is still hot from the oven). This cake is an acquired taste; the palate will initially experience a subtle bitterness and then the bitterness will be overwhelmed by the sweetness of the chestnut. Like marmite, you will love it or hate it!
It's a kaleidoscope of flavours; chestnut, sultanas, pine nuts, olive oil and rosemary. For many centuries it has been considered more like staple food rather than a cake or dessert. Many years ago school kids, especially from the rural areas of Liguria, used to have it for school snack. Even myself, when I was a kid, I used to buy castagnaccio from my local green grocer (fruttivendolo), sold in a square slice wrapped in greased paper. It’s an ideal bite while having a mid-morning coffee or an after lunch espresso, as I usually do.
Ingredients (Metric & Imperial measurements):
Nutrition facts: Calories 650 per serving.
Note: use 25 g (1 oz) of the olive oil into the initial batter and the remaining 25 g (1 oz) for the final finish, before putting the cake into the oven.
Here is a close view of the chestnut flour I have used. I had this sent to me from Italy.
Soak the sultanas in a small bowl of water, for about an hour. Remove some tiny little sprigs from the main sprig (10 for a mild flavouring, 20 for a strong flavouring).
After one hour soaking in water, drain the sultanas, set aside and discard the water.
Add the 570 g of water (1 pint) into a large bowl.
Add half of the olive oil to the water.
Add a pinch of salt to the water.
Slowly, add the flour into the bowl, a bit at a time, while whisking. I have only two hands! one for the bowl and one for the camera; which explains why the whisk is still.....you should be whisking vigorously.
This pictures shows the stage where I have added about 50% of the flour. I whisk making sure that there is no lumps before adding the remainder of the flour.
Now, that all the flour has been added to the bowl, the batter should have reached a medium consistency (not too loose).
Next, add the sultanas to the batter.
Then, add the pine nuts to the batter.
Give the mix a good stir.
Coat a cake tin with olive oil. I have used a 22 cm (8 3/4") wide cake tin.
Pour the mix into the cake tin.
Leave the mix to level itself for few seconds. Do not bang the tin down against the working surface; it will send the sultanas and the pine nuts to the bottom.
Scatter the remaining olive oil all around the surface of the mix.
Place the tiny rosemary sprigs over the surface of the mix.
Place the cake tin into a pre-heated oven and bake for 35 minutes at 190°C (375°F). My oven is fan assisted.
The castagnaccio is ready. Remove from the oven and transfer it onto a plate.
This is how it looks after the baking.
Have a slice with an espresso coffee.
If you have found it a bit too bitter for your taste, dust the castagnaccio with a bit of icing sugar, but not too much.
Federico Pezzaioli is an ex-badass Italian Paratrooper on a mission - to make creating delicious authentic Italian food really easy. He researches, writes and photographs each recipe with the same attention to detail he used to apply to packing his parachute.
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