Easy-to-Follow Recipe for Traditional Italian Castagnaccio

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Step-by-Step Process: Making the Perfect Castagnaccio Dough

tuscany

Castagnaccio, a cake made from chestnut flour, originates from Tuscany but has become a traditional dish in the Apennine regions of Umbria, Piedmont, Liguria, Lazio, Emilia, Romagna, and the Alpine and plain areas of Veneto and Lombardy. The cake is also prepared on the island of Corsica and has a variant in the Campania region. A quintessential autumn dish, Castagnaccio is created by baking a mixture of chestnut flour, water, extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts, and raisins. Local variations may include additional ingredients such as rosemary, orange zest, fennel seeds, or dried fruits. Ideal accompaniments for Castagnaccio include ricotta or chestnut honey, new wine, or sweet wines like Vin Santo.

Related articles: Traditional Italian Vegan Dishes

Cacasenno who is pacified with a chestnut cake: watercolor (1736) by Giuseppe Maria Crespi
Cacasenno who is pacified with a chestnut cake: watercolor (1736) by Giuseppe Maria Crespi, source

There are various names and recipes for desserts made with chestnut flour. At least three different types exist: a very thin cake (mainly found in Lunigiana, where it is called patona or castignà in Fosdinovo), a thicker cake (common in Tuscany, particularly in Lucca where it is called torta di neccio; in Livorno, a 3-centimeter-thick and dense castagnaccio is called toppone and considered inferior in quality; and in Arezzo, it is called “baldino”), and a sweet polenta-like dish (also prevalent in Tuscany and called pattona). The most popular type of castagnaccio, a thin cake, is known as “migliaccio” in Florence and “ghirighio” in the Florentine Plain (Campi Bisenzio, Sesto Fiorentino, etc.), Prato, and the Val di Bisenzio.

Castagnaccio is a “poor” dish in the truest sense of the word, once widespread in the Apennine regions where chestnuts formed the basis of the rural population’s diet. After a period of obscurity that began after World War II due to increased prosperity, Castagnaccio has been rediscovered and is now the star of numerous festivals and fairs during autumn.

According to Ortensio Landi’s “Commentario delle più notabili et mostruose cose d’Italia e di altri luoghi” (Venice, 1553), the inventor of castagnaccio was a man from Lucca named “Pilade da Lucca,” who was the first to make castagnacci and earned praise for it.

PreparationCookingTotal
5 min25 min35 min

Ingredients

  • 500g of top-quality chestnut flour
  • 500-550g of water
  • 120g of sultanas
  • 100g of pine nuts
  • A sprig of rosemary
  • A pinch of salt
  • A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

How to Make Castagnaccio

  1. First and foremost, soak the sultanas in water for approximately 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the chestnut flour and salt. Gradually add the water, stirring with a manual whisk. The proportion for the perfect castagnaccio dough is equal amounts of water and half the amount of flour. However, the flour might absorb a lot of liquid; if this happens, add an extra 50g of water.
  3. The final dough should be smooth, velvety, and ribbon-like when poured – not too liquid!
  4. Incorporate the following into the dough: most of the pine nuts (reserving a tablespoon for later), and most of the sultanas (also keeping a tablespoon aside). Stir well to combine.
  5. Pour the dough into an oiled baking tray, drizzled with a bit of extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle the surface with the reserved pine nuts and sultanas, and the de-stemmed rosemary needles.

Baking the Castagnaccio

For a tender, moist castagnaccio that’s not too dry or dense, it’s essential not to overbake it.

As this is a relatively thin cake, especially if you’re using thin, shallow pans, it will bake quite quickly.

Bake in a static oven at 180°C in the middle rack for approximately 25-30 minutes.

After 25 minutes, check with a wooden skewer, and extend the cooking time only if the dough isn’t set yet!

The perfect end result is a cake that’s firm yet soft and slightly moist when a skewer is inserted. The surface should be light, barely cracked, and not burnt!

Remove from the oven and let it cool in the tray. Enjoy it completely cold!

And voila, your Castagnaccio is ready to serve!

Featured image: source

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