Variation on a Castagnaccio

It sounds like a musical composition, appropriately enough given the Puccini connection, but castagnaccio is actually the name for a traditional Northern Italian chestnut flour cake. It is thought to have originated in Lucca in the heart of the chestnut growing area of Tuscany and also the homeland of composer Giacomo Puccini.

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Castanaccio is a dense, flat-ish cake made with chestnut flour and olive oil, sometimes studded with pine nuts and raisins. It is really an autumnal cake for the cold weather, but it’s springtime and I had a part bag of chestnut flour I got from Shipton Mill in Gloucestershire that was just begging to be used. So what could I do? Hence, the variation on a theme. I was looking for a lighter cake using 100% gluten free chestnut flour… pianissimo rather that fortissimo.

[✧ An about-turn from my pervious post on hot chilli drinking chocolate!]

chestnut_cake_2

Chestnut Cake with Honey Glaze
Despite being dark in color, this cake is light and moist. I’ve also tried to keep the flavors simple and similar to the necci, the traditional Tuscan chestnut pancakes I made earlier.

  • 4 oz. butter
  • 1/2 cup ricotta (or homemade ricotta-mascarpone)
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups chestnut flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare a springform tube pan (or bundt pan) by greasing with butter and dusting with a little chestnut flour. In a mixer, cream the butter, mascarpone and sugar. Add egg yolks one at a time, reserving the egg whites. Add the juice from the lemon. Alternately add the milk and the dry ingredients – flour, baking soda and salt. Mix until well incorporated.

chestnut_cake_prep1

Whisk the egg whites until peaks form. One large spoon at a time, fold into the chestnut batter. Spoon into the prepared tube pan and place into the preheated oven. Bake for about 50 minutes to 1 hour until a knife inserted into the cakes comes out clean.

chestnut_cake_prep2

Cool on rack in its pan for 10 minutes. run a knife around the edges and along the tube, invert and remove from pan and continue cooling on the rack. While still slightly warm, but not hot, spread the honey glaze over top, letting it melt and drizzle down the sides.

chestnut_cake_prep3

Honey Glaze
1 Tablespoon honey
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

Melt the butter and stir in the honey. When smooth, add the sifted confectioner’s sugar a little at a time, stirring until smooth. The glaze will be quite thick, but when it is applied to the warm cake, it will melt and create a glaze.

chestnut_cake_slice

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28 comments

  1. This cake looks fabulous. I have spent a great deal of time in Lucca so I should at least try to make this cake when some chestnut flour comes my way.. The ending ‘accia’ has me intrigued. This suffix usually implies negative connotations and so the cake may be a lovely but ugly cake.

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    • Perhaps this variation should be “castagnezza”? You might be on to something, though. Have you ever seen images of the real traditional castagnaccio? It is, indeed, not a lovely sort of cake – dark and dense – more like a brown flan pimpled with pine nuts and raisins. Tastes good, however. Lucky, lucky you spending time in Lucca! The area is one of my favourite places in Italy.

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    • It does make a great cake. Since chestnut flour is heavy to start with, I tried to lighten it a bit. Next time I may substitute more ricotta for the butter. Nice to experiment with unusual ingredients, but I always look to traditional foods for inspiration even if I don’t follow them to the letter!

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  2. Yours looks delicious! I have tasted a few here but they were flatter and dense. The flavour was good but texture a little rubbery…I think I’ll try your recipe for a better outcome.

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  3. I have never baked with chestnut flour, but this looks so good1 You always post interesting possibilities… sue
    womenlivinglifeafter50.com

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    • That sounds like a great plan! Chestnut flour has a distinct sweet-nutty flavour and can be quite heavy. Hence, the need to lighten it up a bit when baking. I’ve seen it used in cookies and brownies, too. They looked equally delicious!

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  4. Despite I’m so proud to be Tuscan, I’m not a huge fan of Castagnaccio because is to flat and dry…. your version seems to be completely an another story, soft and lightly brown. I love the idea of adding some ricotta (or mascarpone). I’ll try your version, without telling my grandmother : ), I’m sure I’ll it better…

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    • It is a good cake – I really didn’t want the heavier traditional castagnaccio. Perhaps I’ll make that later in the autumn – it seems the season for it. I am completely converted to the wonderful properties of chestnut flour.

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    • I think you’ll like chestnut flour. It’s sweet and nutty, but slightly grainy. If you find it, use it up soonish as it does not keep long. I store mine in the refrigerator. Found your blog and it looks like our taste in food is very similar. Have a post coming up next week on semit!

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