Chestnut cake or Castagnaccio

IMG_0297“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”
The first time I had a chestnut was in Rome, Italy, in Piazza di Spagna to be exact, in 1991, and they were roasted chestnuts on an open fire… They were spectacularly delicious. Living in Italy that year, I encountered chestnuts in all sorts of delicious jams, and baked goods. I hadn’t known I was even missing anything until I discovered chestnuts.

When I came home to California, I returned to my chestnut-free life, at first feeling deprived, and then slowly, over time, forgetting about them… Until last year, when one of my patients asked me about chestnut flour. She had seen it in Whole Foods, in the gluten-free baking section. I was intrigued. I had never attempted to bake with chestnut flour, in fact, I didn’t even know it existed! I had to have some.

If you’ve ever had a chestnut, you’ll know that it is naturally sweet and starchy. The flour is made from ground chestnuts, and it is naturally gluten-free.

I found chestnut flour at Whole Foods that actually had a recipe listed in back that was easily modified to meet my needs. The chestnut flour was from Italy, and I could tell it was truly Italian because of the poorly translated English version of the recipe. I was excited- this was the real deal!

Italians write recipes much more loosely than we do here- it’s kind of like how your grandmother cooks: some of this and some of that, and just a touch of this…
Here’s how the recipe reads: 500 g of chestnut flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, 3 tablespoons raisins, 3 tablespoons pine nuts, 1 glass oil, salt, milk. Yes, that really is a GLASS of oil, and yes, there really isn’t a measurement for the salt or for the milk.

Fortunately, I speak and read Italian, and so I could refer to the Italian version for clarification. It turns out that bicchiere, which means cup or glass, was just mistranslated to glass instead of cup… Ok, I could handle that, but the salt and milk- yeah, that’s just to taste and texture- you kind of have to figure it out for yourself…

After a couple of attempts, I ended up with a tasty, albeit a little different, treat.

Here’s the modified recipe for Castagnaccio that is dairy-free:

Ingredients:

  • 500 g of chestnut flour
  • 3 tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of raisins, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts (I used pecans, because I didn’t have pine nuts)
  • 1 cup of coconut oil, gently warmed so that it is liquefied
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2-1 cup of non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened coconut milk because it has the most neutral flavor)
  • 1/2 cup non-dairy chocolate chips (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. Oil or butter an 8 x 8 (or something near equivalent) baking dish and lightly sprinkle a touch of chestnut flour over it.
  3. Soak raisins in warm water for ten minutes
  4. Pour the chestnut flour into a large mixing bowl.
  5. Add half cup of coconut oil, the sugar, and salt and mix well.
  6. Add the remaining oil as well as the milk as you continue to stir the mixture.
  7. All of the dry clumps should be gone, but the dough will be quite thick. I used my hands to make sure it was well-mixed, as the dough was quite thick.
  8. Add in the optional chocolate chips and stir them in.
  9. Pour (or place) the mixture into the baking dish and spread until it is even throughout.
  10. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top, or if you use pecans like I did, place them on top.
  11. Bake for about 50 minutes. The top should be a bit browned.
  12. Slice into squares and enjoy.
    Notes:
    The cake is yummy warm or cold.
    Store in the fridge and reheat slices as needed to soften them up a bit.
    The texture is quite dense, and even though it looks like a brownie, it is NOT!

 

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