Chestnuts were an important traditional foodstuff in parts of Italy. Peasants could supplement their diets with chestnuts, and flour was a natural extension of this. Roasted chestnuts remain a common sight in Roma over the winter, though I’m skeptical about whether this is because Romans demand it, or because it’s another cute novelty to sell to tourists.
Anyway, I bought some chestnut flour – farina di castagna – from the Testaccio Ex-Mattatoio producers’ market last weekend, on a whim. Didn’t really have any idea what to do with it. And nor do I particularly like chestnuts. Living in New Zealand years ago, some friends who tried to live as much as possible by foraging provided enough for me to eat far too many, resulting in a certain aversion. Which might not sound promising, but bear with me.
After a bit of Googling and polling friends, I plan to use it to make various items at some stage, including the Italian traditional castagnaccio – a kind of peasant cake that doesn’t include sugar and instead realies on the natural sweetness of chestnuts. (Chestnut flour is also known as farina dolce – sweet flour.) Also: chestnut flour pancakes (maybe on Shrove Tuesday, which is looming) and this cake, which comes from a gluten-free angle. If I can work out a replacement for crème fraîche, which isn’t readily available here in Roma. Apparently I can use panna acida.
But first, I made some bread, inspired by a recipe in Richard Bertinet’s Dough. His version uses rye flour; here I replaced that with chestnut flour. I also reduced the yeast in his recipe and added some white leaven. What the hell.
400g strong white flour
100g chestnut flour
6g fresh (fresh)
50g white leaven (100% hydration)
Combine the flours and salt.
Whisk together the leaven, yeast and water (warm – use dough temp x 2 minus flour temp to give you a water temp… or just warm…).
Add liquid to flours, bring to a dough.
Form a ball, rest, covered, until doubled in height. I’m not going to suggest a time, as that really is so dependant on the temperature of your room.
I divided it into two, formed balls, rested 10 mins then I made rings, but really, knock yourself out with the shape.
Prove again, until doubled in height.
Bake at 220C for 15 mins, then lower temp to 200C and bake another 15 mins. Or if you’re doing one large loaf, it may need longer. Trust your judgment!
And you know what, it’s yummy. The nuts give the crumb a slight purply tinge and the taste is indeed subtly sweet.
I really ought to try and take better pictures though. Random snaps from my phone don’t cut it. And that tablecloth is getting a bit overused as a backdrop.
9 responses to “Chestnut and walnut bread”
Sounds good, but you know all this experimentation is very unItalian. If this were a good way to use chestnut flour, your granny’s granny would have discovered it and that would be the end of the story.
LOL. Quite. Non si fa.
But surely there must be a traditional Italian bread somewhere that uses chestnut flour?
I Googled “pane castagne” and came up with quite a few. Pane di San Martino (http://www.earmi.it/ricette/castagne.htm) sounds pretty traditional, and there are many others.
I’ll try and translate that, and see. “Prendere mezzo mestolo” seems a bit vague though – is there a standard “mestolo”?
Just looked at another recipe for Pane di San Martino that includes walnuts too.
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Once you’ve mastered the chestnut foodstuffs Dan, have you thought of experimenting with acorn or horse chestnuts. I believe you have to grind them and boil before they are non-poisonous? Not sure what you the cook (probably not on your Italian theme either?). The best Chestnuts I have for raged in the UK were in Richmond Park, though allegedly this is not on as you are depleting the red deer of winter feed (surely a ‘recent’ supplement) as far as the ones in this country are concerned?
Hm. Well, I’ve heard of people making flour from acorns, but we did a foraging course in Cornwall with wild food expert Marcus Harrison and, if memory serves, he said Europeans only really ate acorns (v high in tannins, which have to be soaked out) in times of famine. So they’re not really a viable food source. Although a quick scout indicates they have had some food uses, but more outside Europe. As for horse chestnuts – not sure I’ve ever heard of them being eaten. In fact, a quick scout there says “they are highly poisonous due to the presence of a toxin called aesculin.”!