Both delicious and healthy, chestnuts, unlike other nuts, are low in fat and high in trace minerals. Originating in Sardis, the capital of the ancient region of Lydia (now part of Turkey), the sweet European chestnut (castanea sativa) is thought to have been brought to Europe by Alexander the Great and the Romans, who planted chestnut trees as a food source whilst on their various campaigns. Known as the Spanish chestnut tree in the United States, the castanea tree flourishes in mountainous Mediterranean regions, basking in cool, damp climates and liking nothing better than a good frost or snowfall. In Catalunya, chestnuts are roasted for la castanyada, part of the celebrations on All Saints Day (November 1st), but they can also be dried and ground into a powder, or soaked then mashed to be used in tasty savoury and sweet recipes, such as this simple and scrumptious chestnut cake.
- 600g raw, peeled chestnuts or chestnut purée
- 4 eggs
- 150g sugar
- 50g butter
- a small cup of rum
- 50g cocoa powder
- rind of a lemon
For rum-flavoured whipped cream:
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon rum
Soak the peeled chestnuts in water with a pinch of salt for about 30 minutes then drain. In a food processor, mash the chestnuts into a smooth purée (if you prefer, you can buy chestnut purée). Next separate the eggs, then mix the yolks with the sugar and butter to make a sticky paste. To this, add the puréed chestnuts, a generous dash of rum (according to taste), cocoa powder and lemon rind.
Pre-heat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are in soft peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the chestnut mixture, then pour it all into a greased cake tin and cook in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour. Test by inserting a knife—it should come out smooth not sticky—and the top of the cake should be cracked. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for about five minutes before turning out onto a rack. Let the cake cool completely before eating.
A delicious way to serve the chestnut cake is with whipped cream with rum. Just before serving the cake, whip some heavy cream in a chilled bowl, then beat in two tablespoons of sugar and one tablespoon of rum.