Sunday, September 25, 2011

Day 163! Slovenia - Castagnaccio (Chestnut Cake) Up Next, Slovakia


Lately I've been into savory cakes;  the kind my kids generally turn their noses up at, which is all the better for me, because I actually get to have more than one slice before it vaporizes. There are many, many wonderful recipes from the country of Slovenia, but when I came across this one for Castagnaccio (Chestnut) Cake, I knew I wanted to make it as I'd never cooked with chestnut flour before and the country has a long history of cooking with chestnuts, especially during times of war when foraging for nuts and berries meant the difference between sustenance and famine. Plus, the thought of olive oil, rosemary, golden raisins and pine nuts combined in a cake sounded so intriguing that I couldn't help but bi-pass all the other great recipes I found in favor of this one. I ordered the flour from Amazon, but you may be able to find it at Whole Foods or an Italian specialty shop.

I believe it's best to live life with no regrets - no matter the impulsive decision (which I make daily -- habitually), and this is one of those split second choices I can confidently say I'll never regret. But...my husband did not share in my enthusiasm - nope, he did not like the cake at all. This is an extremely dense, almost pudding-moist cake, with a creamy texture to which he took an immediate dislike.  Despite only having 8 tablespoons of sugar, it's also very rich, but not sugary thanks to the natural sweetness of the chestnut flour and raisins, so a small slice is all that's needed. And, while I thought the addition of rosemary scented and flavored the cake to sublime heights, he didn't didn't agree in the least. After the second bite, and a somewhat queasy smile, he politely pushed the plate away. I, on the other hand, loved that the earthy chestnut flavor was completely foreign to my palate. Should you try this cake, do try to let go of your preconceived cake-as-I know-it notions and enjoy this rustic, savory confection. I can imagine Castagnaccio with a sweet dessert wine or a cup of good strong espresso.

Located in the heart of Europe where the the Alps meet the Mediterranean and the Pannonian Plains meet the Karst, Slovenia is bordered by Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy. Among one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, Slovenia is home to over 24,000 animal species. This beautiful country is the 3rd. most forested country in Europe and boasts some of the most pristine lakes, streams and thermal springs. Historically, Slovenia was part of many different states such as the Roman Empire, Holy Roman Empire and the Hapsburg Monarchy. During World War II, the country was occupied by Germany, Italy, Hungary and Croatia, eventually emerging as a Yugoslavian state. Finally in 1991, the country attained full sovereignty. A deeply devout and secular nation, Slovenia has over 3,000 churches and chapels.

Owing to Slovenia's rich history and proximity to other countries, its cuisine is quite diverse and is regionally influenced (hence this cake that's also made in Tuscany) by neighboring borders. In general, animal fat, cream, butter and eggs form the basis for much of its cooking. Stews, porridge, pork, poultry, potatoes, beans, cabbage, mushrooms, wild greens (regrat) are all enjoyed. Chestnuts, walnuts and hazelnuts are frequently used in desserts along with strawberries, loganberries, blackberries, blueberries and honey.

Pine nuts, olive oil, sultana (golden) raisins and rosemary flavor the cake

Soak the raisins in warm water for a few minutes to plump them up

Chestnut flour has an earthy and unique flavor

Only 8 tablespoons of sugar sweeten this cake

A few strokes of the whisk gets all the lumps out of the batter without over mixing

Top batter with rosemary sprigs and drizzle olive oil

The cake is done when little cracks appear on top

Castagnaccio (Chestnut Cake) - (Recipe adapted from Epicurious.com)
(Recipe can be divided in half and baked in a 9" pan to make a thinner cake)

1 lb. chestnut flour
8 Tbsp. sugar
Pinch of salt
6 Tbsp. sultana (golden) raisins
6 Tbsp. pine nuts
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
5-1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra fro drizzling
4 cups cold water

Soak  raisins for a few minutes in warm water.
Mix the chestnut flour, oil, salt, sugar and water - using a whisk helps break up any lumps.
Drain the raisins and mix into the batter, along with pine nuts.
Pour the batter in a greased 10"- spring form pan.
Sprinkle rosemary sprigs over the top of batter and drizzle with a little olive oil.
Bake at 400 F for 45 minutes
Cake is ready when the surface is covered with little cracks.
Cool and serve.



© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

2 comments:

witchywoman said...

That is quite the interesting recipe...I don't know if I'm brave enough or not, I'm not much for rosemary...did it have a pronounced flavor? You sure did it justice with your photography, though, Sarah...beautiful pictures!

sadie said...

Thanks, Laurrie! The rosemary definitely came through, but I have seen recipes that left it out altogether. I think the chestnut flour has the stronger flavor. I loved it, my husband...not so much :)