Friday, January 14, 2011

Castagnaccio (chestnut flour cake) recipe

Number four on my New Year's resolution list was "bake more". And to keep my promise, a few days ago I baked a typical Tuscan cake, called Castagnaccio (and for those of you who are wondering, but wasn't the Tuscan Foodie on a diet?, well, a slice of Castagnaccio is only 5 points under the new Weight Watchers system, thank you for asking).

The castagnaccio is a chestnut flour cake (castagna in Italian means chestnut) with raisins, pine nuts, walnuts and rosemary. There is no yeast nor baking powder, nor sugar. As much of the Tuscan food that is now considered fancy elsewhere, this was born as a poor man's meal: everybody could go and pick up chestnuts in the wood and make flour out of it. According to some, the origins would go back to the Ancient Romans, when a chestnut bread was made out of coarsely ground chestnuts, and stuffed in travelers' and workers' bags. There are some fools that dare question the origin of Castagnaccio as a typical Tuscan dish though: but they are fool, nothing more.

Cracking up - this is what it should look like when ready
I didn't use the word "bread" by accident. The castagnaccio - again, as a lot of other Tuscan sweets - is not really a sweet, but something in between a savory bread and a cake. And it is super easy to make. You can find a variety of chestnut flours on Amazon, some of them from Italy, some of them from America. I have no clue if there is a difference in taste between American and Italian chestnuts: all I can tell you is that a good chestnut flour is very sweet when you taste it raw (and this is why you do not need to add sugar to the castagnaccio). Taste your flour before using it. If you find it sour, this can be the result of two things: 1) the flour is of poor quality or 2) the flour is too old and has gone stale (chestnut flour doesn't keep well. Purists only make castagnaccio in November-December, as the flour is prepared in October/November, when chestnuts are available...). In both cases, you can add some sugar to the mix to reduce the bitterness of the final products, but the final result may be subpar.

DOWNLOAD OR PRINT THE RECIPE CLICKING HERE.

Castagnaccio Ingredients (for 8 people)
  • 250g (1/2 a pound) chestnut flour
  • 2-3 cups of water (500-700ml) - it depends on the quality of the flour
  • 1/3 cup (75g) of raisins
  • 1/4 cup (50g) pine nuts
  • 5 walnuts (peeled and coarsely ground) - if you don't have the walnuts, don't worry.
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 20-30 needles of rosemary
 How to make it
  • Pass the flour through a sieve and put it in a bowl. 
  • Add water to the mix, slowly, while mixing. You want the batter to be soft enough to fall from the spoon, but not too liquid. Normally 2 1/2 cups (600ml) is the perfect amount of water, but you may need more or less. 
  • Add the olive oil, the pine nuts, the walnuts, the raisin and mix them all well together. 
  • Oil a pan large enough so that the poured batter is 1cm thick (0.4 inches). Pour the batter in.
  • Throw the rosemary needles on top of the batter. Do not stir: you want the needles to be visible.
  • Bake the castagnaccio at 400 Fahrenheit (200 Celsius) for 30-40 minutes. The castagnaccio is NOT ready if there are no cracks appearing on the surface: the cracks means the cake is perfect. 
  • Take it out, let it cool and enjoy it. You can eat it on its own, or with a teaspoon of ricotta cheese on top, which is how my family traditionally eat it. Wrapped in a plastic foil, it will last 4-5 days, but it will dry out a bit. 
The right size and thickness
Doesn't it look beautiful?









PS: crazy people will tell you that you can't make castagnacccio if you don't own a copper pan. But they are crazy. Let them be.
a

20 comments:

ceilithe said...

wow, this looks and sounds delicious. can't wait to make it. thanks for posting your recipe!!

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Hi Ceilithe, welcome and thank you! Let me know if you try it and how it comes out!

FOODalogue said...

One of my resolutions was 'to bake' also and this is a perfect recipe for me as I'm not big on overly sweet, sticky or gooey. My first attempt at baking around Christmas was to make biscotti and I instinctively included rosemary to give it a hint of savory.

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Let me know if you like it: this cake has a very peculiar taste, either you love it or you hate it.

Krista from Passport Delicious said...

So did you buy your chestnut flower on Amazon? Or did you get it somewhere in Chicago?

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Hi Krista: neither. I brought mine from Italy over Christmas...

mangocheeks said...

I have some chestnut flour in my kitchen cupboards, but can't remember why I purchased it. I think this recipe may be the way forward.

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Hi Mangocheeks, welcome: beware of old chestnut flour: it doesn't age well, and it becomes very sour!

Tanya and Adrian Scaletti said...

Hello foodie, arrived home from a weekend in my husbands home village with some fresh Farinata (chestnut flour). And part of the lesson his cousin gave me is a quick way to tell the quality of your flour is the color, if it is not really white it is not of as good a quality. Becasue they verbally told me how to make the castignaccio I'll be following your recipe as well as incorporating their instructions.

Kat said...

Hi I thought I had the right chestnut flour - but the one I had was from water chestnuts, which is easy to get in Asian markets but not as sweet as chestnut from trees. So people should be careful which one they get.

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Welcome Kat: the chestnut flour you need for castagnaccio can be found at whole foods, or online, via Amazon for instance.

Anonymous said...

I had my first olive oil cake this past Friday & fell in love! However, can I skip the raisins? Also the one I had was much thicker.... It crumbled & melted in mouth. Very sensual & heavenly for my mouth!! Hoping to recreate it.

A Tuscan foodie in America said...

You know, I never had olive oil cake, and I am quite curious about it

Anonymous said...

I would like to know what kind of pan to use. Should it be a skillet (what size) or a rectangular baking pan (again, what size)?

A Tuscan foodie in America said...

Hi Anonymous, I never measured the pan., although it is something I should indeed do. But, as I write in the recipe, the important thing is that the batter is 1cm thick when you put it in the pan. Shape is not important: round or square is irrelevant, as long as you keep the same 1cm thickness.

Hope this helps.

Misdemeanors with Miss Adventure said...

I was just in Lucca, Toscana for christmas and had this and necci. So glad you've posted the recipe because I brought home a kilogram of Italian chestnut flour and I plan to impress my friends! Thanks!

A Tuscan foodie in America said...

Ah, i necci!!! I haven't had them in such a very long time!

CW said...

Thanks for this recipe! It's absolutely delicious. I've made it twice now-- the first time I was puzzled that I only needed a little over a cup of water, but my chestnut flour tasted sweet and fresh and the consistency looked right, so I went with it. The second time I used the same bag of flour, but this time it wanted the recommended 2.5 cups of water. So odd, but both times the cake came out just right, with terrific flavor and texture. I guess chestnut flour is just finicky.

Mario Ratto said...

Wow great to find this recipe. Although I'm not Toscano but Genovese I grew up on this loved it as a child and will love it again as soon as I make it. Reminds me of fall when dad and I would go pick mushroomsand eat this as a snack.

Thank you

Mario

Mario Ratto said...

Wow great to find this recipe. Although I'm not Toscano but Genovese I grew up on this loved it as a child and will love it again as soon as I make it. Reminds me of fall when dad and I would go pick mushroomsand eat this as a snack.

Thank you

Mario

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