You may remember my excitement a few months ago when I bought a kilo of chestnut flour and made some kickin’ chesnut crepes. I had big plans to put this flour to use, seeing how the chestnut enjoys a nearly revered status in Corsican cuisine. Alas, I’m ashamed to report that my bag of flour has sat untouched on the shelf, and many a rainy, wintry day has passed that could have been much improved by a warm, nutty, traditionally Corsican baked good. Thankfully, I rectified the situation yesterday afternoon in the bright, clean kitchen of Madame Antona, one of the English teachers at the high school where I work.
Over the past few months, I’ve spent many Saturday afternoons in Madame Antona’s kitchen enjoying a cup of tea with milk and a slice of chestnut cake, but until yesterday I had never tried my hand at baking this Corsican staple. By following Madame Antona’s personal recipe card — sparse instructions handwritten on a worn piece of paper — I discovered that this cake is as simple to make as it is comforting. With this recipe under my belt, I need only to perfect the fiadone, and I believe I’m about ready for Corsican grandmother status.
corsican chestnut cake
Madame Antona’s recipe
200 grams (1.5 cups) chestnut flour
1 packet sucre vanille (or 2 tablespoons sugar + 1 teaspoon vanilla)
1 packet levure chimique (or 2 teaspoons baking powder)
1 cup oil (canola or cooking)
1 cup milk
1 cup granulated sugar
butter for greasing
optional: hazelnuts, slivered almonds, or pine nuts
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Separate the egg yolks and whites into two medium-sized mixing bowls. Set the whites aside.
Combine yolks with sugar, oil, milk, levure, sucre vanille, and chestnut flour, and mix until smooth. If you’re adding nuts, stir them in. Set aside.
Beat the whites until stiff peaks form (or battre en neige — “beat into snow” — as this old recipe calls it). Carefully incorporate the whites into the flour mixture using a spatula. Mix by hand until smooth.
Grease a large tart pan with butter and fill with the batter. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Let cool before serving.
Chestnut cake has an almost smoky quality thanks to the chestnut flour, and it’s flavorful without being overly sweet. Its consistency is light and airy, and it crumbles in just the right way when you slice into it with your fork. Pair this with a mug of Earl Grey and you’ve got yourself a cozy little tea time. For me, this recipe will always hold sentimental value. I’m sure that many years from now, no matter where I am in the world, I could take a bite of chestnut cake and be transported right back to Madame Antona’s kitchen and to the sea, the sun, and the snow-capped mountains that is Corsica. Isn’t taste magical in that way?