Italian chestnut flour cake with raisins, vanilla and dried figs: castagnaccio alla ferrarese

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This is not the traditional castagnaccio whose recipe you may find on cookery books: it is widespread all around Italy and every Region, every city, even every family has got its own recipe whose secrets will never be revealed!

I am an exception and I want to tell you my granny’s, actually, it was my granddad’s recipe: he used to make it along with another typical fried sweet, the“tamplun”, an unpronounceable name in every language, but in Italian (well it is difficult to pronounce in Italian, too).

They don’t look very nice, they don’t taste typically sweets, I used to hate them as a child. I had to eat them to please my grandparents-as soon as they turned their backs, I gave them to the dog!

Nowadays I have found out why I used to hate them: their taste doesn’t fit children, it fit adults. Children like (and this is not a positive habit, unfortunately!) bland clear and sugary flavors, soft  and fluffy textures.

Children are not keen on dark colors, they like sweet “yellowish” sweets such as a sponge cake, or a deliciously scented chocolate cake. Castagnaccio really tastes different, today it is something I can’t do without!    

Why will you enjoy my castagnaccio?

It does not have a nice look, indeed, but it is extremely healthy. The scant quantity of sugar comes naturally from that contained in the dried fruit. It is surprisingly gluten-free and shell fruit provides “good fat”.

It is a very balanced cake, believe me; a rustic but never trivial kind of sweet.

When can you eat castagnaccio?

You can eat this cake without feeling guilty: it makes a perfect snack before or after doing exercise (it provides you with plenty of “fuel”), and it fits you every time you feel like something toothsome, but you don’t want to exaggerate.

This castagnaccio is usually prepared in the long winters in the countryside of Emilia Romagna (notably Bologna and Ferrara), and it clearly represents one of those countless recipes which comes from the poor Italian peasant tradition. Old poor women in typical white aprons, used to sell this cake, or one of its variations, to earn a little money and get by.

In the past, castagnaccio used to be prepared only with freshly ground chestnut flour, raisins, pine nuts, walnuts were added only on special occasions, and then it was either baked or fried.

Children in the past used to look forward every special day because they used to like castagnaccio the best! Children have changed over the years, nowadays they are fond different  tastes: industrial sweets, sugary fizzy drakes and lollipops.

castagnaccio cake

These are the tricks for a “without” cakes: without sugar, without eggs, without flour, but very rich in flavor:

  • Chestnut four: only high quality one, no way. It is a kind of sweet ivory-halzenut colored  flour from dried and ground chestnuts; smooth and very fine, it is not so silky as common white flour. It does not contain any flour (anyway it must be labeled “certified gluten-free” for people who suffer from celiac disease) but it has very good nutritional properties as it rich in carbs, and mineral salts: potassium, iron, calcium, sodium, phosphorus, chlorine and a lot of fibers. Also vitamins play a very important role: C, PP, and group B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, and B6).
  • Dried fruit: opt for raisins. Do you know what makes the difference between raisins (sultana) and currant; they are often confused. Raisins come from the species Vitis vinifera and doesn’t undergo any processes; on the other hand currant belongs to the family of dried fruit, it undergoes a dehydration process, sun-dried or in special stoves. Currant may be, but not only, obtained from the seeds of white raisins which are discarded in the vinification process.
  • Pine-nuts or walnuts? I like pine-nuts the best, but walnuts or almonds may well replace them.

castagnaccio cake

You can’t find chestnut flour? Make it yourself!

  • Choose untouched chestnuts and discard the bad ones;
  • Rinse in running water and put them into a pot with water; bring to a boil;
  • Cook for 40 minutes;
  • Drain and let cool down a little;
  • Peel chestnuts when they are still warm, and place them onto a baking tray;
  • Let them cool down completely;
  • Pre-heat the oven at 140°C-150°C (284°F-302°F) and put the chestnuts into the oven;
  • Bake for about 60-70 minutes until dry but not browned; 
  • Allow to cool until completely cold, or overnight if you can;
  • Grind them in a mixer until a coarse grainy flour;
  • Grind them as much as you can;
  • Transfer the flour into freezer bags and store in the freezer up to 1 or 2 months.

Italian chestnut flour cake with raisins

This is not the traditional castagnaccio whose recipe you may find on cookery books: it is widespread all around Italy and every Region, every city, even every family has got its own recipe whose secrets will never be revealed! 
Course Dessert, Snack
Cuisine Italian
Keyword castagnaccio, castagnaccio ferrarese
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Servings 8 people

Ingredients

  • 400 gr chestnut flour 
  • 150 gr dried figs 
  • 80 gr raisins
  • 2 tbsp shelled pine-nuts or almonds
  • 1 tbsp grappa (typical Italian spirit from Norther Italy) or rum
  • 1 tbsp olive or seed oil 
  • little butter to grease the baking pan (you don’t need it if you use parchment paper) 
  • 1/2 tsp salt dissolved in water 
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla baking powder
  • zest of half a lemon
  • half skimmed milk enough for a quite soft batter (about 400ml)

Instructions

  • Soak the raisins in hot water in a small bowl; 
  • In another mixing bowl combine grappa (or rum), oil, and the salt you have diluted in little water (you want only a very small glass);
  • Sift in the chestnut flour to avoid any clumps and pour in some milk; 
  • Combine vigorously with a whisk, add some flour and then milk until a smooth even batter;
  • Add the lemon zest; 
  • Pour some more milk until a very soft, almost liquid batter; 
  • Add the baking powder; 
  • Stir well to combine until an even mixture; 
  • Add the well squeezed raisins and the coarsely chopped figs according to your taste; I prefer small pieces; 
  • Pour the batter into a greased (or lined with parchment paper)  baking pan;
  • Pre-heat the static oven at 180°C (356°) and bake for 30-35 minutes; 
  • Allow to cool down completely and sprinkle with powdered sugar.  
  • Do you feel like a scent of Tuscany? Add a few leaves of rosemary, it will give a really pleasant aroma. 

And then the tamplun…

What can you do with the flour left? It is not required in a lot of dishes. These are my childhood’s “frittelle”- very tasty flat sweets.

This recipe is very similar to the previous one, but the cooking method is different.

Actually they are fried, but don’t be scared of it! A suitable and duly executed frying will not make your sweet heavy, difficult to digest, nor rich in calories.

This is what you have to do:

  • 250g of chestnut flour;
  • Extra: 1 spoonful of sugar (to please children);
  • 2 tbsp of flour type 00;
  • The grated peel of half an organic lemon;
  • 70g of soaked and well-squeezed raisins;
  • 40g of pine-nuts, or walnuts;
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil;
  • 1 tsp of vanilla flavoring;
  • A pinch of salt,
  • Tap water for the batter, about 400-500ml;
  • Peanut oil to fry 
  1. Soak the raisins in water (you may replace water with white wine for a stronger taste) for about 30-40 minutes;
  2. Sift the flour to avoid clumps;
  3. Combine all the ingredients: chestnut flour, flour type 00 and lemon zest;
  4. Gradually stir the flour mixture in 400-500ml of water; energetically combine with a whisk. Add the sugar to your taste here;
  5. Add the well squeezed tasing and the pine-nuts for the walnuts;
  6. The batter should be quite thick, so add flour or water until the right texture;
  7. You can either fry or bake these sweets;
  8. If you want to fry them: in a frying pan, heat oil the 160°C-180°C (320°F-356°F);
  9. Pour about 2 tbsp of batter for quite thick sweets;
  10. Flip them over and drain on a paper towel;
  11. If you prefer the oven, place dollops of two tbsp of batter equally spaced onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper; pre-heat the oven at 180°C (356°F) for 10-15 minutes;
  12. In both case, allow to cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

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