Castagnaccio is a classic late Autumn cake of sorts traditionally from Tuscany made from the flour of dried chestnuts. Generally a rather dense cake typically baked in low sided copper pans customarily including olive oil, raisins, pine nuts, a bit of rosemary or any combination of these ingredients. Castagnaccio, as with any dishes relying on the chestnut harvest typified cucina povera. Make no mistake, Castagnaccio has a distinct rustic flavor and is not especially sweet, definitely not for the faint of heart. Chestnut Cake is my adaptation of Castagnaccio inspired by two of the late Gina De Palma’s recipes; my attempt to make this Tuscan classic a bit more approachable.
Chestnut Cake is ladened with walnuts, pine nuts, candied orange peel, raisins plumped with Vin Santo and dried cranberries creating almost a fruit cake of sorts. A mixture of cinnamon, ginger, cardamon, cloves and a bit of cocoa powder add an intriguing spicy aroma to the cake. Sweet and bitter chestnut honey subtly complements and brings together all of the flavorful elements.
Chestnut flour often contains some lumps so it is important to sift and then whisk the dry ingredients before adding the binding agents. Chestnut cake is a one bowl process done by hand. The batter is thicker than a typical cake, even before you fold in the dried fruit and nuts.
Serve the finished cake at holiday time in small slices with a scoop of honey gelato, lightly sweetened ricotta or mascarpone cream along with a glass of Vin Santo.
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- Olive oil for greasing the pan
- 2⅓ cups of chestnut flour
- 2 Tbs. 00 or all purpose flour
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 Tbs. baking powder
- 1 Tbs. Dutch processed cocoa
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- ½ tsp. ground ginger
- ½ tsp. ground cardamon
- ¼ tsp. ground cloves
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup light brown or muscavado sugar
- 3 large eggs
- ¼ cup chestnut honey
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 1 cup lightly toasted walnut pieces
- ½ cup golden raisins soaked in Vin Santo overnight
- ½ cup candied orange rind chopped into ¼ inch pieces
- ¾ cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup chestnut honey
- ¼ cup vin santo
- Strip of orange rind
- 2 strips of candied orange rind or fresh rosemary for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350º and oil a 9 inch springform pan with olive oil.
- Sift the chestnut flour into a large bowl, then add the flour, salt, baking powder, cocoa, spices, and sugar and sift the dry ingredients together. Once sifted integrate well using a wire whisk - make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.
- Place the walnuts, raisins, candied orange pieces, and cranberries together in a small bowl.
- Combine the oil, eggs, honey and vanilla in a small bowl and whisk together well. Add the wet ingredients to the well in the center of the dry ingredients and gradually begin to incorporate them together using a large spatula. The mixture will be quite dense and you may want to use your hands to incorporate everything evenly.
- Add the dried fruit and walnuts to the batter, mixing with your hands to evenly distribute. Turn the prepared batter into the prepared springform pan, pressing it out gently being sure that it fills the pan evenly. Scatter the pine nuts over the batter, lightly pressing them into the top of the cake.
- Place the springform pan into the preheated oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, turning to 180º mid way. The cake is done when the sides have slightly pulled away from the pan.
- While the cake is baking combine the honey, Vin Santo and strips of orange rind in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Gently simmer for 5 minutes, then set aside.
- Remove the cake to a cooling rack and immediately brush the top of the cake with the honey mixture. Allow the cake to cool for about 10 minutes and then remove the sides of the pan. Once the cake has cooled completely, transfer it to a serving plate and garnish with either some candied orange rind or sprigs of fresh rosemary.