I love Fall in Italy. Not only is it the best time for food fairs, but it’s the season to pick chestnuts which are abundant here in Italy. The mild days of October are still long and the forests are immersed with warm, amber tones that make even a simple walk magical. Harvesting chestnuts is simple; all you need are a pair of gloves, a cloth sack and you’re ready to collect chestnuts. By the end of your walk you will have a sack full of chestnuts. However, if chestnut foraging is not your thing, you can always attend one of the many festivals that take place during the autumn season in Italy. You can enjoy chestnuts in a myriad of forms, from simple roasted chestnuts to soups, pasta and of course desserts. It was at one of these fairs that I stumbled across a wonderful rustic dessert that has its roots in the Tuscan region of Italy. It’s called Castagnaccio all Pistolese or Tuscan Chestnut Cake.
Chestnuts were a staple of cucina povera providing much needed nutrition for the Agrian poor in the countryside. Because of this, chestnuts were used in every form imaginable, boiled, roasted, and ground into chestnut flour. Though the chestnut is no longer a food necessity, it still is important culturally to Italy today as can be seen with all of the festivals dedicated to only chestnuts.
This particular chestnut based cake has origins is Tuscany. While it can be found throughout Italy, it is still most commonly made only during the fall months when chestnuts are harvested. It is a super simple rustic cake that is made with chestnut flour, raisins, pine nuts, walnuts, and a drizzle of olive oil.
After pouring the batter into a 12 inch (or 28 to 32 cm) pan and sprinkle some of the reserved pine nuts and walnuts on top of the batter a little fresh rosemary leaves (optional) and a drizzle of olive oil and bake for 25 minutes.
While the traditional version is flavored with a little rosemary, more untraditional versions add chopped chocolate. You could also spice it up with a little cinnamon. The beauty of this dessert is that is so easy to make and a handy recipe to have on hand when feeding anyone with a gluten free, vegan or dairy-free diet. And there is no added sugar! It would make a great addition to your Thanksgiving or Christmas table.
This cake is relatively flat and crackly on top since there are no eggs or leavening agents. Castagnaccio is often translated to “cake” in English, but the texture is not a traditional cake texture; it is much denser and more moist; more like a sweet potato cake.
Chestnut flour is quite filling so it is best to serve in small slices. If I am feeling indulgent, I will drizzle a little honey over my slice and maybe a dollop of fresh ricotta. Serve with a glass of red wine or passito (sweet dessert wine) and you will be transported to the Tuscan countryside.
Since many of the American chestnut trees were decimated in a blight many years ago, chestnuts and therefore chestnut flour is harder to come by, but you can buy it online on Amazon. Just follow this link: Italian Chestnut Flour – Farina di Castagne.
This chestnut cake has origins in Tuscany. A simple rustic cake made with chestnut flour, raisins, pine nuts, and walnuts. Moreover, it's gluten free, vegan, and dairy-free
- 5 1/2 cups (500 grams) chestnut flour
- 2 3/4 cups (650 grams) water
- 3/4 cup (100) grams walnuts, chopped
- 3/4 cup (100 grams) pine nuts
- 1/2 cup (80 grams) raisins
- 1 stalk fresh rosemary (optional)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 Tablespoons (40 grams) olive oil
- Soak raisins in a bowl of water for about 10 minutes to rehydrate them.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the flour and salt. Slowly add the water and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined.
- Once well mixed, add the walnuts, pine nuts (making sure to reserve some of them for the top of the cake) and raisins. Mix well.
- Brush the pan (bottom and sides) with olive and and pour in the batter making sure to smooth the top.
- Sprinkle the top with the remaining nuts and drizzle with olive oil.
- Bake at 350 F (175 C) for 25 minutes to until the top is crackly and golden brown.
If you want to make the cake sweeter you can certainly add a few tablespoons of sugar.