Last year on holiday visiting my Aunty and Uncle who live in Italy I bought back with me some Italian Goodies including a bag of chestnut flour. I have wanted to try out this traditional Tuscan cake recipe ever since then, but never got round to it. Since my super strict January regime is now over, last weekend I wanted to make a treat to munch on whilst Wales were enduring their first rugby match of the 6 nations tournament against Ireland (cake must have brought us luck as Wales won!) Since my Sister was coming round too, and she can’t eat eggs at the moment this was perfect recipe for us all. This cake is therefore Vegan as well as gluten free. Whilst making this I realised how much I’d missed baking in the kitchen for the whole of January – baking is one of those little pleasures in life that completely takes my mind of anything except the task at hand.
There are tonnes of variations to this recipe about, and I combined a few different recipes to suit the amount of flour I had left. Some recipes include sugar (oh no not sugar!!!), I guess if you wanted to make it sweeter you could add some raw honey or maple syrup, but as a first trial I thought I’d try without, since the chestnut flour is naturally sweet as are the sultanas. Personally I don’t think you need anything extra, it was sweet enough. Traditionally the cake is covered in pine nuts, but as they weren’t available in my local shop (it was snowing the day I made this and there was no way I was getting the car out!) I used a combination of chopped walnuts and almonds instead. The rosemary makes for a very interesting taste sensation, which I really liked, but be warned the end result doesn’t have a cakey texture – it is quite dense so be prepared for something quite different and quite unlike the consistency of a Victoria Sponge cake.
Never fear though, you don’t have to go to Italy to get the flour. Chestnut flour is available in the UK – just harder to come by and not something I have yet seen in a general supermarket aisle. (Try searching on-line if you get stuck or perhaps in an Italian delicatessen it should retail around £4-5 for a 500g bag).
- 250g chestnut flour
- 350 mls filtered water
- pinch of salt
- extra virgin olive oil
- 40g sultanas
- 25g nuts (pine, walnut, almond)
- Fresh rosemary
- Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius.
- Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl to get rid of any lumps, then pour in the cold water bit by bit stirring till the mixture resembles a pourable batter. Stir in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Set aside for 30 mins.
- Meanwhile soak the sultanas in warm water for around 20 minutes, this brings out the sweetness, and allows them to plump up.
- After 30 mins, add half of the chopped nuts to the flour-batter mixture, along with the drained sultanas.
- Grease a large shallow baking tin with half a tablespoon of olive oil.
- Pour in the batter (it should be around 1cm deep), and sprinkle with the remaining nuts, and all of the fresh rosemary. Drizzle a further tablespoon of olive oil over the cake.
- Bake in the upper part of the oven for 40 minutes. During cooking the top of the cake will crack. This is how it is meant to look, don't worry!
Photo updated September 2014, when I had the opportunity of teaching this fabulous cake at a community class at London’s Made in Hackney. Photo credit Scrumptious Food Photography / Rhowena MacCuish