Castagnaccio milanese – Milanese chestnut cake

Castagnaccio milanese – text and photo byWinedharma CC BY-SA 2.0

The castagnaccio is a cake made with chestnut flour, oil, honey, and other ingredients typical of the Apennines of Piedmont, Liguria, Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna regions. It is also prepared on the island of Corsica.

Castagnaccio is a classic sweet made with chestnut flour, oil, honey, and a few rosemary needles. A sort of poor man’s polenta produced since the Middle Ages in all mountainous areas of Italy, whether around the Alps or the Apennines, north or south, makes little difference. The recipe starts from a fundamental ingredient of the Italian cuisine: chestnut flour, which has been the grain and the bread for thousands of mountain communities.
The modernized recipe of castagnaccio includes raisins, pine nuts, and walnuts, but the substance does not change. The recipe of the original castagnaccio, the one from Tuscany or Romagna, does not exist. Once upon a time, people used to put everything that could give them energy and calories to survive the cold and help them work in the countryside and the mountains, so do not think of a gourmet recipe. On the contrary, the taste of castagnaccio was very spartan, and only in the last years, it has come back in fashion, with sweeter recipes.

Who invented castagnaccio?
Some ancient recipe books tell us that the “castagnazzi” was a sort of “zibaldone” recipe in which people included cheese and unbelievable ingredients. In short, our ancestors were not afraid to experiment, mostly when hunger was a fear.
Why talk about castagnaccio today? What sense does it make to propose a recipe as old as the world in this era of frenzy for the most absurd and refined street food?
Before the advent of all the most recent street food, the answer is straightforward: castagnaccio was the snack par excellence, cooked, sometimes even fried, on the street by street vendors and then sold hot, in slices. Only our grandparents remember it.
Today we offer you a traditional recipe for castagnaccio to experience the thrill of going back to our origins and taste a delicious dessert with a humble yet complex flavor that takes us back to an era light-years away but which is just around the corner.

Ingredients and doses for making castagnaccio
500 grams of chestnut flour
lukewarm water
50 ml of extra virgin olive oil
Five tablespoons of honey
raisins
Two spoons of rum
pine nuts
walnuts
sprig of rosemary

How to prepare the perfect castagnaccio
As much as Tuscans may insist, the recipe of castagnaccio is not of Tuscan birth. Indeed there are no reliable historical sources that they have adopted and made it themselves and that they are great producers and eaters of castagnaccio; no one denies it.
Turn on the oven, setting the temperature to 180 degrees.
Soak the raisins in hot water and the two tablespoons of rum.
Pour the flour into a large bowl, add the water slowly, start stirring and continue pouring in the water, and add the honey and oil in a trickle. The mixture should be well blended and soft like a polenta if it seems too dry, correct with more olive oil.
At this point, drain the raisins and use a fork to squeeze out the water. Incorporate the raisins, walnuts, and pine nuts into the castagnaccio, mix and put the mixture in an oiled baking dish.
Bake in the preheated oven at a high temperature for at least 40 minutes. Halfway through cooking, add some rosemary leaves if you like. Otherwise, you can flavor the oil with the leaves and thus prevent them from burning during cooking. Cracks must be present; they are due to the high temperature and are characteristic of a good castagnaccio, do not pity them!

What wine to match with castagnaccio?
Chestnuts and marroni are not easy to match because of their bitter taste; let’s choose a triumph of sweetness and spices such as Sagrantino passito.

Regional Recipe from Piedmont, Liguria, Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna