Tag Archives: chestnut flour

Chestnut flour pancakes

Smooth batter

Since discovering chestnut flour for sale here in Rome, I’ve been enjoying experimenting with it. I’ve made some okay breads like this one and this attempt at pane di San Martino. I’ve also discovered it makes a very nice pancake (or crepe, if you prefer). And seeing as yesterday, 12 February 2013, was Shrove Tuesday, aka Pancake Day, it seemed like a good excuse to make a batch.

Chestnut flour (farina di castagne) is surprisingly sweet and apparently it’s also known as farina dolce in Italy (though I’ve never heard that in Rome). Also, as it has nothing to do with wheat or any grain, it’s also gluten-free. I have used some plain flour in the mix here, but that’s partly because I ran out of chestnut flour; the recipe works well with just 220g chestnut flour.

Whisking

I’ll say here and now that pancakes are, of course, hardly sophisticated fare, and furthermore they didn’t photo very well, but, honest, this is  a nice recipe, for both savoury and sweet pancakes.

This makes about a dozen.

2 eggs
280g milk (or ml if you haven’t got electronic scales)
20g (or ml) water, approximately
160g chestnut flour
60g plain flour
Pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 tablespoons of vegetable, oilseed or olive oil

1 Lightly beat the eggs together and add the oil.
2 Sieve together the flours and baking soda, and put in a bowl.
3 Add a pinch of salt.
4 Add the eggs and oil to the dry mix.
5 Add the milk and whisk to combine, adding a little more water if necessary. You want a consistency like single cream.
6 Fry ladlefuls of the mixture in a hot, greased pan. (Thanks to the wife for womanfully managing this step.)

Chestnut pancake

We filled ours with a mushrooms and cream cheese, grated Emmental, and – on a more Italian note – prosciutto. (And although they may look a bit burnt in the below photo, they weren’t – I blame the dark batter and the electric lighting.) Then I finished them off for breakfast this morning with yogurt, banana and honey. But go for your life with fillings – whatever you fancy. What we didn’t do last night was the old-school English pancake day variant of lemon juice and sugar. I think we were too full of the savoury ones.

Savoury pancakes

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Pane di San Martino

In the autumn of 2011, I noticed bags of a yellow-ish powder on a stall in the farmers’ market in the Ex-Mattatoio in Testaccio, Rome. It was farina di castagna – chestnut flour. That is, flour made from the dried and milled nuts of Castanea sativa, the sweet chestnut tree.

At the time, I experimented with it. A friend commented that there is in fact a traditional Italian bread made with chestnut flour, called pane di San Martino, or St Martin’s bread. The feast day of St Martin is 11 November, just around the time the year’s chestnut flour becomes available.

Anyway, I mentioned this bread to a teacher who I was doing a (food-focussed) conversation class with. She dug out a recipe. Well, she clearly Googled a recipe, as a quick Google myself soon found her source, which is here (in Italian).

After having gone through all that, I then completely failed to try the recipe. A year went by, autumn returned – and so too did the chestnuts, and chestnut flour. So last week I bought a new pack, and determined to revisit the pane di San Martino recipe.

Firstly, however, I had to translate it.

It talked in vague terms: “Prendere mezzo mestolo di farina di castagne e mezzo mestolo di farina di frumento…”, that is “Take half a ladle of chestnut flour and half a ladle of wheat flour…” But which ladle? I’m not a fan of the cup measure in recipes – especially as a US and an Australian cup, say, are different sizes. But what about an Italian ladle? I had two in my kitchen, one medium-small, one medium-large. Was either suitable? I plumped for using the medium-large one, and weighing the flours in grams. (If you’re interesting in scaling up recipes, using grams and kilos makes things a lot easier, in part as the maths are more manageable when you’re working with percentages and a measures based around factors of ten. Ounces smounces.)

Anyway, I translated and converted the recipe, but it still wasn’t quite right in terms of the liquid/dry quantities, so I also revised it while making the dough. Indeed, all flours have different absorbency, so you will have to have a feel for dough when you’re adding mixing the water and flours. This time, I used an organic, stoneground farro bianco – white spelt – flour from the renowned Marino Mulino. If you use a wholewheat flour it will require a more water than a white flour.

So. Pane di San Martino. My teacher gave me some notes that said this bread is found from Emilia-Romagna in north Italy to Salento, in Puglia, the heel. I’ve never seen it in Rome though. In fact, I’ll come clean and say I’ve never seen it anywhere, in the crumby flesh. So although my version is based on an Italian recipe, my version has no claim to authenticity. Which might upset an Italian baker, but shouldn’t be a problem if you stumble upon this recipe from other climes.

The recipe uses both a leaven (sourdough culture) and fresh yeast. This is a technique used by one of my favourite bakers, Dan Lepard, though it might upset some purists. OK, purists, that’s two warnings now.

Make a sponge with:
50g chestnut flour
50g of wheat or spelt flour
12g fresh yeast
50g wheat or spelt leaven/sourdough culture (100% hydration – that is, made with 50% water, 50% flour)
180g tepid water

Cover and leave to ferment for around two hours.

Make a dough with:
The pre-ferment
350g wheat or spelt flour
250g chestnut flour
300g water. Add more if the dough feels too tight.
20g olive oil
12g salt

Combine with a spoon or spatula. You want a moist dough. Don’t be afraid to add more water. When it’s a good consistency, knead to combine.

Cover and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Add:
180g walnuts and knead gently to combine.

Cover and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

As the original recipe didn’t involve first and second proving periods, nor does this version. (I think I may work on this recipe though, and adjust the proving. Watch this space.)

Weigh the dough and divide in two. Form two balls, then leave these to prove in baskets or bowls lined with flour clothes.

Leave to rest for around two hours in a warm place away from draughts. Timing will vary depending on the temperature of where your prove the dough.

Preheat the oven to 220C.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. (I’m not using a stone at the moment, just a fierce domestic gas oven.)

When the dough feels springy and alive, almost jelly-like, you’re ready to bake.
Gently upturn the proving baskets/bowls onto the baking sheet.
Make cuts in the top – you can make slashes how you feel, as long as you use a sharp blade and don’t drag at the dough. (Slashes in a loaf used to be the owner’s signature when people used communal village bread ovens.)

Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 200C and bake for a further 20 minutes.

You want the loaf to have a nice colour, and sound hollow when you knock on the bottom. (This isn’t an exact science either but if it sounds hollow, that’s some indication the dough isn’t still soggy and doughy inside, instead it’s baked and dry.)

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

The resulting bread is sweet, almost cake-like, and pleasant for breakfast or afternoon tea, and makes good toast when it’s aged past its initial softness.

Addedum
The great travel writer Eric Newby had a strong connection to Italy – he hid in the Italian mountains during WWII, as described in his wonderful Love and War in the Apennines, and he and his wife – who he met during the war – returned there many times, eventually buying a house in the mountains in 1967. It was called I Castagni, “The Chestnuts”; on the theme of said foodstuff, in A Small Place in Italy he writes “This room extended the whole height of the building and had originally been constructed for the purpose of drying chestnuts. They were laid out and dried over a fire that had a chimney which extended up to the height of the roof. When they were dry they were ground up into a pale, brownish flour and used to make a rather sickly, sweetish sort of bread called castagnaccia which, until long after the last war, was a staple food in many parts of mountain Italy.”

Later on, he writes more about the importance of chestnut trees for “the principle necessities of life”, from building materials to food, specifically castagnaccia, “what had been a stabple food that most old contadini [peasants] now wanted to forget they had ever eaten, because of the memories it brought back of long years of poverty.” Interestingly, the suffix -accio / -accia often indicates a perjorative, so castagnaccia could be translated – very loosely – as “yucky chestnut bread”.

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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.

So:
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.
Knead.
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.

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Filed under Baking, Food misc, Main thread, Rome