Wednesday, 17 August 2011


This is one bastardisation of a classic that blows the real thing out of the water, and I don’t care what anyone says. It’s also in my list of top ten favourite cakes of all time. I don’t know what the other nine are; I just wanted to give myself a tiny bit of scope. Oh hell, maybe it really is my favourite cake of all time.

I first ate this style of chestnut cake at Coffea years and years ago, in the days when I’d go to the Vic Market on Tuesday mornings before uni; it was always still warm from the oven, and the woman grew to recognise me as a helpless addict. I pleaded for the recipe, but she said she’d have to kill me. She handily labelled it Castagnaccio, so I managed to conduct a search for a recipe of the Tuscan classic on a newfangled thing called Google, spent $10 on 500g of chestnut flour at David Jones and tried it. It turned out greyish, oily and horrible, nothing light or sweet about it at all, and it gave me a gut-ache. I tried it again ($10 was a whole hour behind the video shop counter back then, so the flour was a significant purchase), but I couldn’t understand why it was so unlike the one I knew.

Soon after, the Guitar Teacher and I happened to find ourselves in Florence, and sought it out. It was heavy and doughy and faintly bitter, nothing like the castagnaccio back home. 

As a woman possessed, I was always going on about it to anyone who would listen, until one day Alida Irwin pressed upon me a Gourmet Traveller supplement. Within it was a Chestnut Flour, Raisin and Rosemary Cake that proudly boasted of being lighter and sweeter than the traditional castagnaccio, with self-raising flour replacing half the chestnut flour, and a truckload more sugar. I went home and made it. Well might it proudly boast, for it was the one.

I’ve made it probably twenty times since then, getting my chestnut flour at Mediterranean Wholesalers for about $5, and keeping it for up to a year in the freezer since it goes rancid in no time otherwise. It’s a good one, dignified yet homely and comforting, light yet dense and crunchy at its base. People often take it for gingerbread, for some reason, but invariably come back for seconds – The Quiltmaker, for example, found it so wholesome she ate it for lunch.
 [adapted from Gourmet Traveller circa 2001; among minor other tweaks, I make this larger version]

100g raisins, soaked in hot water or verjuice for at least 30 minutes
200g chestnut flour
200g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
250g unsalted butter
400g brown sugar
420mL milk
1 ¾ teaspoon bicarb soda
2 eggs
a good few sprigs’ worth of rosemary leaves, chopped a bit
40 pinenuts
olive oil

Line a roughly 20x30cm slice tin with baking paper. Preheat oven to 180C.

Blitz flours, baking powder, sea salt and butter in a food processor until crumblike. Add brown sugar and process until combined. Press half the flour mixture firmly over base of lined tin (being no good at judging amounts visually, I put it on scales and weigh 500g into it).

Whisk bicarb soda, milk and eggs in a bowl. Add to this remaining flour mixture and drained raisins, mix well and pour over base – it’ll be quite runny. Scatter with rosemary and pinenuts and drizzle all over with olive oil. 

Bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer withdraws clean, covering with foil after 40 to prevent over-browning. Cool in tin. 

It’s wildly good when still vaguely warm, but will keep excellently well for a couple of days.


  1. OMG i think i have also been trying to replicate what must be the exact same amazing cake i had a couple of years ago on a trip to Melbourne, in a cafe outside the Vic markets. And I have just made the same disgusting 'proper' castagnaccio too and started googling to find out what went wrong! really excited to read your recipe! thanks!

  2. Why is this recipe not in the Gourmet Traveller's archives?! I also had the same lift-out - Italian Desserts - and lost it. This is hands down my favourite cake of all time. Grazie mille for sharing this!

  3. Like you, I was a woman posessed. I tried this cake at Coffea early one Saturday morning. AMAZING ! I too, bought the chestnut flour, made the cake, ugh!! Googled "variations to Castagnacia" and up came your blog. Thankyou so much !! It is at the top of my list of things to bake when I want to show off a bit �� Completely delicious. Thankyou for sharing your find AND your story. Bless you. Joybie.f