What is Castagnaccio?

Castagnaccio is made with chestnut flour.

Castagnaccio is a cake mainly made with ground chestnut flour. It is often referred to as chestnut cake. Dessert is traditionally served in the cuisine of Tuscany, a region located in northern Italy that has chestnuts in abundance. The cake tends to be thought of as having a distinctive flavor that is rich and nutty, rather than overtly sweet due to the small amounts of sugar and other sweetening agents that are used.

Chestnuts, the main ingredient in the traditional castagnaccio cake, are a variety of nuts that grow on chestnut trees and must be boiled, roasted or otherwise cooked before being eaten. This is because they contain tannic acid, a natural plant chemical that can cause digestive discomfort. To be used in the cake recipe, the chestnuts are ground to form a flour. Chestnut flour is generally available in specialty Italian stores or can be made at home by grinding the chestnuts with a pestle or food processor until the nuts form a powder.

Although chestnut flour is usually the main ingredient in castagnaccio, it also contains other basic ingredients. The base of the cake has a fine texture that usually consists of water and small amounts of salt, sugar or oil, mixed with the chestnut flour to form a dough. If sugar is used, it usually only takes about 2 tablespoons (30 ml) to add just a touch of sweetness to counteract the richness of the nuts. Chopped walnuts, raisins, chopped sprigs of rosemary or citrus zest can also be added to the dough for additional flavor.

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The process of preparing castagnaccio usually starts with mixing the chestnut flour with the water and stirring or beating until there are no more lumps. The exact ratio can vary depending on the thickness or diameter of the cake you want, but a standard ratio is usually two parts chestnut flour to one part water. Any nuts, raisins, citrus zest, or other additional ingredients are usually added to the dough and stirred in by hand after the flour and water have been prepared. The dough is then baked on a greased baking sheet for approximately 30 to 40 minutes.

Once baked, castagnaccio remains a flat cake that does not rise much during cooking. It is traditionally served at room temperature or cold rather than fresh out of the oven. Due to its stronger and more savory flavor, it is often paired with wine rather than coffee, which is often served with sweeter cakes and desserts.

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