My recent trip to Livorno, Italy- a part of Tuscany on the clear Mediterranean Sea was filled with seeing friends, eating, cooking and of course lots of talking!
One of the most special times and there were many special times during my trip to Italy was on the last evening of my trip; my friend made a secret family dessert for me, showed me how to make it and shared the family recipe with me. This is not a recipe that they make often and there is competition in the family on who truly makes the best Castagnaccio. I don’t have the answer to that quite yet, hopefully in time I will.
This dessert has its roots in Livorno and Tuscany. Castagnaccio is made only at this time of year because it is a chestnut flour cake. Only the freshest chestnut flour will do and now is the season for chestnuts and fresh chestnut flour, now is the time to make Castagnaccio! Although there are many variations on Castagnaccio, this particular variation is true to its Livorno roots using only chestnut flour, pine nuts, raisins, water, oil and salt. Surprisingly it does not have any eggs at all! Don’t worry about finding chestnut flour; if you can’t find it locally, it is available on Amazon!
As a baker, measurements are important to my baking and the success of my baked goods so it was amazing for me to watch my friend make the Castagaccio with no recipe. The measurements were done by feel and texture alone. To make this dessert, you need a 15 inch paella pan to make it in the true Italian tradition! It is a low rising large cake served in wedges with ricotta over the cake or if you prefer you can put your choice of sugar on top of the Castagaccio. When you do make this wonderful cake, make sure when you cut the cake you use the appropriate knife that won’t ruin the pan. I bought a galvanized steel paella pan so I can make the Castagaccio, a knife will ruin the pan. I will use a plastic knife or plastic spatula just as my friend in Italy did!
Today I want to share a family held recipe from my friends in Livorno! I have converted the measurements but will give the measurements as they were given to me! I hope you enjoy this cake as much as I did! I have already purchased my pan and will be making Castagnaccio for the holidays. The cake can be served with a nice Italian dessert wine but goes best with milk! The texture was amazing, very smooth and flavorful. The raisins seemed to have melted into the cake.
Pine nuts 2/3 cup (100 grams)
Raisins 2/3 cup (100 grams)
Chestnut Flour one pound (500 grams)
Water 3 1/3 -4 cups cold water (up to one liter of water)
Olive Oil 1 Tablespoon plus additional for pan and for drizzling on top of the cake
Salt 2 pinches of salt
Soak raisins in hot water for 3 minutes until soft
Preheat oven to 375° (190°C)
Prepare the paella pan by greasing the pan with olive oil on both the bottom and sides of the pan.
In a large bowl, whisk chestnut flour to eliminate any lumps in the flour, and then start adding the cold water, whisking until the consistency is creamy, thinner than a cake batter but not watery.
Add the salt
Drain the raisins and add half of the raisins
Add half of the pine nuts to the batter and 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil and mix well.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan add the remaining pine nuts and raisins across the top of the cake.
Drizzle olive oil on top of the cake forming a grid like pattern.
Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until dark in color.
Serve immediately or at room temperature.
Get your knife and fork ready to enjoy a wonderful dessert from Livorno! Serve with Ricotta or sprinkle with sugar of your choice and a nice cold glass of milk!