Category Archives: Food misc

Chestnut and walnut bread


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
10g salt
320g water
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.


Filed under Baking, Food misc, Main thread, Rome

Innocenti is bliss

My noble quest to try castagnole and frappe from, well, as many different pasticcerie as possible, continues. Today we dropped by Innocenti, which, for sheer vintage cuteness, is incomparable.

Nestled in Via della Luce, a cobbled backstreet in the slightly less touristy part of Roma’s Trastevere (that is, to the east of Viale Trasteve), the shop is dominated by the vast form of a veteran conveyor oven, which is currently partially stacked with frappe and castagnole.

And very nice they are too. We bought castagnole con crema and yer basic frappe. Just scoffed a load, then managed a bit of self restraint and stashed some for later. That said, better finish them soon, so I can justify sampling some more from another outlet…

Innocenti, aka Biscottificio Artigiano Innocenti, 21 Via della Luce.

And look at all the goodies they sell. Not just biscuits. Yum. Got my work cut out for me.


Filed under Baking, Food misc, Rome

Pass the dolci

Italians love their dolci: sweets, desserts, ice cream and pastries, or pasticceria. I always assumed the French had the last word on patisserie, but living in Rome, I’m not so sure any more. In Monteverde Vecchio, our neighbourhood, indeed within about 100 metres of our flat, there are at least three pasticcerie (as I understand it, the word can mean the outlet, the trade and the product), as well as a bakery/tavolo caldo (“hot table” – meaning then sell hot snacks) that also does pasticceria. Two of these places, and another one just down the hill on Viale Trastevere, have counters around 4-5 metres long utterly packed with biscuits, pastries, chocolates and sweeties that you buy by weight. And none of them are chains.

That’s one thing I love about Italy – it’s got an incredibly strong business culture of independents, of SMEs (small-medium sized enterprises). As well as all the independent pasticceria, which are also cafés, there are umpteen independent cafés, which also sell pasticceria. Although I’m an oddity in this culture for my dislike of coffee, I’m more than happy to frequent these places and indulge in pastries and, as it’s the winter (hey, there was a frost last night), I can get away with drinking lots of the cioccolata calda without breaching too much strict Italian food and drink etiquette. Well, I say “drinking” but it’s frequently half-way to eating as Italian hot chocolate is generally thickened with cornflour, making it a thick, gloopy thing that’s almost like a hot chocolate mousse.

My current obsession is for castagnole and frappe, which started appearing in the pasticcerie shortly after Christmas, specifically at Epiphany; that’s 6 January for heathens. These are seasonal sweet treats for carnevale – carnival or Mardi Gras season. The Christian tradition is that Mardi Gras, aka Fat Tuesday, aka Shrove Tuesday, aka Pancake Day, is the day when you use up all your rich food products, fats and sugars to initiate Lent, the period of abstemiousness that leads up to Easter. While us Brits, and others, might have a pancake blow-out on just one day, here in Italy it looks like we’re getting weeks of the aforementioned treats.

So, castagnole are small, deep-fried dough balls, a bit like doughnuts, but the dough isn’t leavened with yeast, but with chemical raising agents, ie baking powder or equivalent, according to both the ingredients taped up on the counter at Pasticceria Dolci Desideri (“Sweets you want”!; our local, on Via Anton G Barrili) and the recipe on this blog. The word presumably relates to castagna – chestnut – though they have no chestnut flavouring. Instead you can get them semplice (plain) or filled with crema (custard) or ricotta. Frappe, meanwhile, are basically thin rectangles of crisp, slightly puffy pastry, like a sweetened pasta, baked or deep-fried, and sprinkled with icing sugar, or sometimes flavoured with honey. The name itself (singular: frappa) is a bit confusing, as the similar word frappé means shake, or milkshake.

According to the above-mentioned blog, they’re also known as cenci (the plural of cencio, rag – not very appetising), stracci (shreds; stracciare is the verb to tear or rip up) and lattughe (lettuce) in other parts of Italy. We’ve been treating ourselves to castagnole and frappe, well, pretty much every day this week. It can’t go on, for obvious reasons, but not only are they delicious, there’s just something inherently lovely about going to a pasticceria and getting some treats wrapped up like a gift (eco concerns about over-packaging notwithstanding.) Really, Brits have a long way to go to make the patisserie experience as charming as this. Sure we have some wonderful independent bakeries these days, but their patisserie can still seem meagre by comparison, even if they have an array of poncy cupcakes. And for people who still don’t even have access to real bakeries, some foul mass-produced “Toffee Flavour Yum Yum” from “Greggs The Home of Fresh Baking” [sic] just doesn’t cut it.


Filed under Baking, Food misc, Main thread, Rome