Chestnut, rosemary and pine nut cake
The real name for this is castagnaccio, which I can’t pronounce responsibly so I call it chestnut cake. It’s a recipe I first encountered in Italy quite a few years ago and enjoyed immensely.
Back in Australia, I couldn’t find it anywhere so I made a stupid decision and tried to re-create it. Sometimes it’s a matter of simple trial and error when doing this. I will usually read as many recipes for something as similar as possible. Usually I will read about 10 recipes and create a kind of hybrid. In this process, there can also be happy accidents.
After lots of duds and a few kilos of chestnut flour, I came across a recipe that I adapted to achieve a cake with the lightness that I remembered from first eating it. The key with this recipe is the honey, which contributes a lot of the flavour. Chestnut honey is quite commonly used in cakes such as this, but I prefer to use a lighter honey that does not dominate so much.
Rosemary is another important element. If you don’t have access to fresh rosemary, don’t be tempted by dry. It’s too strong a flavour and lacks the subtle perfume of the fresh leaves.
Chestnut flour is a difficult flour with which to work. It’s quite heavy – quite dense – and a small amount goes a long way. It’s also very rich. Too much chestnut flour makes the cake so dense that it is not really palatable – or not at all palatable, to be honest.
One of the more common uses for chestnut flour is to include it in pasta dough. At the restaurant, we are currently serving an autumn pasta made with chestnut flour and semolina and served with foraged mushrooms. The pasta itself has a rich and nutty flavour and does most of the work in the dish.
This cake keeps quite well – in fact it’s almost better the next day – but it does need to be heated. A strong coffee is the perfect accompaniment.
Chestnut, rosemary and pine nut cake
– piece of butter
– ¾ cup (75g) chestnut flour, plus a pinch for dusting
– ¼ cup (40g) plain flour
– ½ tsp baking powder
– ½ tsp baking soda
– ½ tsp salt
– 3 large eggs, separated
– ½ cup honey
– 1/5 cup (110g) sugar
– ½ cup pure olive oil (not extra virgin)
– 2 tbsp pine nuts
– 1 tsp fresh picked rosemary leaves
Preheat a fan-forced oven to 170ºC.
Take a 23-centimetre springform cake tin and rub with a piece of butter, then dust with chestnut flour.
Mix the chestnut flour, plain flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pass through a sieve into a bowl.
In another bowl (or electric mixer) whisk the egg yolks, honey and two tablespoons of sugar until thick and pale. This should take about five minutes.
Fold in the olive oil, then add the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Gently stir until well incorporated.
In an electric mixer on high speed use the whisk attachment to whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt. When the whites have gained volume and doubled in size, start adding the sugar one teaspoon at a time. Continue whisking until all the sugar has been added and firm peaks have formed.
Fold the stiff egg whites into the cake mix one-third at a time until all the whites have been added. Pour the mixture into the cake tin. Scatter the pine nuts and rosemary over the top of cake.
Place the cake in the centre of the oven and bake for 30 minutes, then loosely cover with aluminium foil and bake for another 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven, place on a cake rack to cool, then remove from the cake tin.
This cake is best served warm with fresh thick cream. When ready to serve, cut the cake, cover with foil and pop back into the oven for 10 minutes to warm through.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 27, 2017 as "Backing the chestnut". Subscribe here.