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11 May 2014

Castagnaccio - Tuscan chestnut "cake"

Chestnut flour is still an unusual ingredient in our kitchens, unfortunately.
To mill chestnut into flour, they are first dried over wood fire and this imparts the resulting product with a delicate and distinctive smoky aroma that make this flour pretty unique.
Being a nut´s flour, it doesn't contain gluten and so it is an useful ingredient for gluten-free pantries.
In Italy, chestnut flour is a traditional ingredient of the center-north portion of the peninsula. In Tuscany, notably, chestnut flour is used in a savory-sweet cake called Castagnaccio (castagna being the Italian for chestnut).
This cake is usually enriched with flavorful extra-virgin olive oil, pine nuts and rosemary but the main variation point in local recipes revolve around the use of cocoa powder in it.
Chestnut flour, with its deep rich sweet and smoky aromas, is just a perfect companion to chocolate and the use of a little cocoa powder in the Castagnaccio can only do it good, in my opinion.
I personally, simply adore rosemary in my Castagnaccio. When baked to crispy perfection, this herb lends its heady green-field aromas to this earthy densely satisfying cake; a perfect reminder of Tuscan sunbathed fields.
Try it once, and you will be hooked. You have been warned!

Castagnaccio (Tuscan chestnut cake)

Ingredients (serve 8-10 people):

  • 200g chestnut flour
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 400ml water
  • 1 tablespoon good extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts
  • 1 sprig rosemary


Preheat your oven to 180C/360F while you prepare your castagnaccio mixture.
In a bowl, sift the chestnut flour and combine it with the cocoa, the sugar and the salt. Using a whisk, combine the dry ingredients with the water, adding it little at a time to obtain a smooth batter the consistency of cream, without clumps. Be aware that, to obtain the right consistency, you may need more or less of the water listed so adjust it as you go along.

Line your cake-tin with baking paper and pour the chestnut mixture in it. Scatter the pine nuts on the top of the mixture followed by the rosemary leaves and finish with a drizzle of olive-oil.
Bake in the preheated oven for roughly 20-30 minutes or until the top of the castagnaccio will develop its characteristic wrinkles and cracks.
Serve the castagnaccio lukewarm or at room temperature.

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