Corsicans have a thing for chestnuts.
Seriously, the people of this island have figured out a million and one permutations of the humble chestnut, from chestnut honey and jam to candies, nougats, beer and liqueurs. Each year, around one thousand tons of chestnuts are gathered and ground into flour to be baked into breads, cakes, cookies and (spoiler alert) crêpes. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that le gâteau à la farine de châtaigne (chestnut flour cake) is as much a national symbol as the Moor’s head. And of course if you like your chestnuts simply roasted o’er an open fire, you can easily find the smoky snack for sale on the street.
To pay homage to this king of nuts, the small town of Bocognano holds an annual Fiera di a Castagna, which is Corsican for Chestnut Festival. This special time of year rolled around again last weekend, and some friends and I decided that such an event could not be missed. We hopped a rickety train into the mountains and an hour later found ourselves in what can only be described as chestnut heaven.
On the outskirts of the sleepy town of Bocognano, chestnut enthusiasts had erected an enormous circus tent to house rows upon rows of vendors selling genuine Corsican products. While chestnut goods certainly dominated the arena, the festival offered a huge variety of other island specialties, as well. Great wheels of artisanal cheeses spilled across tables like the one pictured below. And behind every tables was a friendly and knowledgeable Corsican who was more than happy to offer samples of their exquisite products.
Throughout the hour or two spent winding through the tent of tables, I sampled too many amazing products to list them all here. Spicy mustard incensed with maquis. Creamy almond nougat chopped fresh from a giant block. Morsels of cheese that make your nose twitch in the best way. Sweet clementines. Hearty beer. Myrtle syrup. Needless to say, I was enchanted. And if ever the tent of wonders became too overwhelming, you could simply step outside for a fifty cent cup of rosé, or, of course, a handful of roasted chestnuts.
By the time we boarded the train to go home to Ajaccio, I had filled a good-sized shopping bag with Chestnut Festival loot. The purchase I was most excited for, however, was a one-kilo bag of chestnut flour. After a quick search of recipes that called for the flour, I found this one for chestnut crêpes with berries and brocciu (a very traditional Corsican cheese, similar to ricotta). And believe me, I was not disappointed.
chestnut crêpes with brocciu & berries
Adapted from Stylist.co.uk
for the crêpes:
1 1/2 cups chestnut flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup water (or 1/2 cup sparkling water, 1/2 cup water)
1 sachet de levure chimique (or 1 teaspoon baking powder)
1 sachet de sucre vanille (or 2 teaspoons sugar + 1/2 teaspoon vanilla)
1 tablespoon butter, melted
oil for frying
for the filling:
500 grams/16 ounces brocciu frais (or ricotta)
2 tablespoons honey
2 containers of berries (I used raspberries and blackberries)
1-2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon sugar
Makes 10 crêpes
A fair warning: this particular crêpe recipe calls for a couple pretty unique ingredients–ingredients that are widely available in Corsica, mind you, but that you may have trouble tracking down in the States. Don’t be discouraged! You can absolutely use only white or wheat flour instead of chestnut, and ricotta cheese is a near identical substitute for brocciu frais. I simply wanted to share with you the most Corsican crêpe I could think of, but please consider this recipe more as inspiration than as an inflexible formula.
Crêpes are actually super easy to make, provided you have the correct pan (I’ve never tried on a regular pan, but I’m sure someone with deft-enough motor skills could make it happen). We start by combining all of the crêpe ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and mixing until smooth. You want the batter silky and super runny. Place bowl in the refrigerator for thirty minutes.
And now the fun part. Place a dollop of oil (I used canola) onto a hot crêpe pan and use a paper towel to spread the oil evenly over the surface of the pan. With your flame set to medium, ladle about half a cup (adjust as necessary) of batter onto the center of the pan. Tilt the pan so that it’s coated in batter. Wait a minute or less (you’ll get the feel after one or two tries) before using a spatula to flip the crêpe. Let cook about half a minute on the reverse side then set on a plate and keep warm while you finish up the others.
Once you’ve got a fine stack of chestnut crêpes, begin on the filling. In a small bowl, combine the brocciu and honey. Set aside. Heat one or two tablespoons of butter and a tablespoon of sugar in a large pan then add the berries. You only need to fry these guys for a minute or two (until they start oozing out some jewel-toned juice). Set aside.
At last! Time to assemble. Place a good dollop of brocciu in the center of your crêpe then drizzle with berries and juice. Fold, and top with a berry or two. If you’re feeling especially sweet, feel free to sprinkle with a little sugar.
And voila! A crepe that melts in your mouth, sweet but not too sweet, berry flavorful and bursting with color and juice but creamy, too, thanks to the brocciu. This is a sure-fire way to fancy up your afternoon, but make sure you invite over some friends to help you enjoy it (otherwise you may end up eating the entire stack yourself. Seriously, this could happen).
Scroll down for alternate folding methods, courtesy of housemate Cassandra!
Bon appétit, mes amis! Or in Corsican: bon appetitu!