What a surprise and treat to find sweet chestnut flour by my house at a local store! The Italians use it a lot to make gluten-free cakes and of course Corsicans are anchored in this long tradition of making flour-based food with chestnuts from the abundant chestnut trees in the center of the island.
Chestnut flour is different in taste and color from any other regular flour. It’s a grayish tan-colored flour made from ground chestnuts bringing wonderful warm woody flavors to cakes, polenta, cookies, crêpes, tart crust, breads etc. and if you are up for making your own pasta, it can be used to substitute part of the regular flour to bring a new layer of savory tastes to a pasta dish.
This flour contains no gluten, which makes it very attractive to people with celiac disease. However, it works better for baking purposes when mixed with regular flour – with gluten. This is why this recipe is not gluten-free unfortunately. Usually, the ratio is 20 to 50 percent chestnut to regular flour so you can end up with a tasty dessert.
To make the flour and according to the Corsican tradition, chestnuts are dried over a wood fire and shelled. They are then placed in a stone oven to dehydrate them completely so they can be ground through a granite millstone. This process brings a special aroma and scent to the chestnuts and to the flour.
If you’ve never smelled roasted chestnuts before or if you’ve never eaten food made with chestnut flour, the aroma of the nut can be quite overwhelming for some. Opening a bag full of chestnut flour will bring out the essence of the forest right inside your kitchen. The fresh roasted smells wafting towards your nose will overpower any other lingering smells around. It is so distracting, you almost feel like you are standing next to the wood fire, looking over the roasting process and smelling the sweetness of the chestnuts. It will leave your fingers permeated with their natural and earthy concentrated perfume. The hint of wildfire is to be noticed as well and will wrap around you in no time following you for hours to come.
Corsicans usually add one big spoonful of candied citron to their chestnut cakes. [French speakers be careful – this is a false friend. Citron is not lemon]. It is hard to find pre-made candied citron in the U.S. but if you are able to buy a whole citron, use David Lebovitz’s fantastic recipe here to make it yourself.
And for the other chestnut flour cake recipe (chocolate glazed chestnut flour cake with mandarin filling), click here.
Sweet Chestnut Flour Cake
1 cup (90 g) of sweet chestnut flour
1 1/4 cup (120 g) of regular flour
1 1/4 cup (240 g) of sugar
1 stick + 3 Tbsps (150 g) of butter
3/4 cup (125 g) of golden raisins or currants
1/2 cup (50 g) of chopped hazelnuts – or almonds if you prefer
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
zest of 1 orange
a pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
In a medium bowl, whisk the melted butter and the sugar until completely dissolved. Add the eggs and whisk again.
In a small bowl, put the 2 flours through a sieve and mix with the pinch of salt and the baking powder.
Add the flour mixture to the other bowl.
Grind the hazelnuts in rough big chunks, chop the orange zest in small pieces and mix them with the raisins. Add to the dough and mix well. You should get a thick dough in the end.
Butter and grease a round cake pan. I use a 9.5 in (24 cm) pan. Pour the dough in the pan and bake in the oven for 45 minutes.