Monday, May 4, 2015

Recipe: Castagnaccio or Tuscan Chestnut Flour Cake

Tuscan Castagnaccio or Chestnut Flour Cake

Next in my series of veganizing traditional Tuscan food, I want to share with you a recipe for a rustic peasant cake called castagnaccio (otherwise known as migliaccio in some regions of Italy). This is a slightly sweet, slightly savory flat chestnut flour cake. It uses only simple, seasonal ingredients to create a distinct, unique dish!

My Babbo (Italian for daddy) showed me how to make castagnaccio, and got me hooked on this treat! He remembers eating it growing up in Fiesole, Italy, though outside of Tuscany he doesn't think it is very well-known. It's such a traditional taste of Tuscany that I wanted to share it with you! Below you'll find the recipe my dad handed down to me, which was handed down to him from his mother, my Italian Nonna.

Some castagnaccio ingredients - pine nuts, chestnut flour, olive oil and golden raisins

Castagnaccio is a simple (and accidentally vegan) cake made from chestnut flour and just a few other ingredients. This cake was a staple of the Tuscan "cucina povera" or peasant kitchen, as the ingredients were easy for poorer people to forage in the region - pine nuts and chestnuts gathered in the forest, grapes that were dried into raisins, rosemary, and olive oil. However, like many peasant dishes, castagnaccio can still be found in Tuscany to this day.

Since chestnuts are gathered in the fall (Tuscany still has chestnut festivals honoring the harvest), castagnaccio is most commonly consumed in late autumn or winter, when the chestnut flour is at its freshest. To tell if it is fresh, take a little taste of the flour - it should taste slightly sweet, If it is bitter at all, the flour may have gone bad (chestnut flour doesn't keep too long). I get mine from Amazon, and have had excellent results with Hoosier Hill Farm's Chestnut Flour.

The chestnut flour lends the cake a very distinct, nutty-yet-sweet flavor and a thick texture, which may take some getting used to. When I first tried it I couldn't even tell if I liked it or not, but after a bit (like my second helping), I was hooked! Plus, it is really, ridiculously easy to make! You have to kind of play around with the ratios, as the measurements below don't matter so much - what you want to achieve is the correct consistency of the batter, which should be around the watery, but still solid, consistency of thin pancake batter.

Fresh castagnaccio right out of the oven (plain, without rosemary)!

Castagnaccio or Tuscan Chestnut Flour Cake


2 - 3 cups chestnut flour
2 - 3 cups water
2 tablespoons of olive oil (plus a little more to oil your pan with)
1/3 cup jumbo golden raisins (sultanas), chopped small
1/4 cup pine nuts
Pinch of salt
The leaves from a few sprigs of rosemary (note: I've made it without rosemary and it is just as delicious!)

Note: Many traditional recipes also include walnuts, so throw in a handful if you want. I've omitted them here because my dad never used them, so I never did either.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease a 9x13 inch baking dish with some olive oil and set aside.

1. Combine water and chestnut flour; 2. Mix until thin consistency is reached;
3. Add pine nuts, raisins, olive oil and salt; 4. Pour into pan.

Sift the chestnut flour into a large bowl. Slowly add the water, about a cup at a time, and mix well. Start with two cups of water and check the consistency. If it's still too thick, keep adding water (a half a cup a time) until the batter reaches a relatively thin consistency (like pancake batter). I usually find that 2 1/2 cups of water is the perfect amount. If you end up with batter that is too watery, add a bit more chestnut flour.

Next, add the olive oil, raisins, pine nuts, and salt. Mix well.

Pour into the greased baking pan, ensuring that the batter is less than half an inch thick (about 1 cm).

Batter should be poured so it is less than 1/2 inch, about 1 cm, deep

Top with the rosemary leaves (don't mix in, they should just sit on top). Sometimes I sprinkle more pine nuts on top, too!

Pop it in the oven and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes to an hour - the castagnaccio will be done when cracks appear in the surface (the more cracks the better!).

Take out from oven and let cool, then slice and enjoy!

Half and half castagnaccio - half with rosemary topping, half without, both delicious!

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