Castagnaccio - chestnut cake

I recently taught a couple of classes on managing blood glucose levels.  One of the recipes we cooked together was a Tuscan dish called Castagnaccio. Its a sweet/savory cake made with chestnut flour and no added sugar.


This winter I've actually had a bit of a chestnut obsession, to be honest.  I just love chestnuts and keep finding new ways to use them.  I think I'm just going to have to find space to plant a chestnut tree.


Edible  sweet chestnuts - not to be confused with horse chestnuts, nor water chestnuts, are in the beech tree family.  They are one of the lowest calorie nuts, containing no cholesterol, very little fat (mostly unsaturated) and gluten free.  They have similar carbohydrate content as rice and wheat and are the only nuts to contain vitamin C.  We always think of nuts as being high in fat - but not the chestnut.



I throw them on my salads, add  them to lots of other dishes and now am using chestnut flour in baked goods.  You can also buy them dried and reconstitute them, and pureed, and as "chips" which you can use to make a chestnut type hummus.  See - they are so much more than just a subject of Christmas songs! Get out there and buy a jar of roasted chestnuts - or roast your own, before they are all gone!



Castagnaccio is a little different from what you imagine a cake to be. It is solid with a more unusual texture - and combines the flavors of sweetness from sultanas (golden raisins), with pine nuts and then fresh rosemary.  I love the combination - but I have to say, I haven't tasted anything else quite like it.  I've tried a couple of variations using walnuts instead of the pine nuts and regular raisins or cranberries instead of the sultanas.  And with or without the orange zest. I like them all and its a great portable food that I take with me in the car on my trips to the city.



I've never had Castagnaccio from Tuscany. Have you?  I'd love to know how this recipe compares.....

Anyhow - if you are feeling like something a little different, give it a go:


Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups chestnut flour (I bought mine online)
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 sultanas/golden raisins
1/4 pine nuts
1 large sprig of rosemary
Grated zest of 1 orange (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F
  2. Soak the sultanas in the 1 1/2 cups warm water for approx 5 minutes.  Drain - reserving both the sultanas and the water.
  3. Meanwhile, remove the rosemary leaves from the sprig.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the chestnut flour and drained warm water until smooth.
  5. Place the olive oil in a pie dish and place int he oven to just a couple of minutes to warm.
  6. Pour the batter into the pie dish and swirl with a whisk to carefully mix in the oil into the dough.  
  7. Sprinkle on the nuts, orange zest and soaked sultanas.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until the whole surface is dry and a little cracked.
  9. Serve hot, warm or cold.
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A Strawberry Birthday cake

Strawberries are just perfect right now. And so they were my inspiration for a birthday cake for my hubby.


There are a few strawberry fields nearby and their fruit is just heavenly.  But these fresh, unpreserved strawberries go off really quickly, so I decided to use some for the birthday cake and then dehydrate the rest for later, and for decoration.  I already had the dehydrator on for something else, so it was easy to add a couple of thinly sliced strawberries.


The recipe for the cake was a new one for me.  It came from La Tartine Gourmande - but I made a few changes.  For example I halved the recipe, didn't use butter, didn't use buttermilk, didn't use cane sugar, nor eggs.... but you get the general idea!!



Having fresh strawberries in the cake itself made it a very moist cake - you didn't need anything to go with it.  The dehydrating concentrated the strawberry flavor in the strawberry slices and gave a nice crunchy texture to the cake topping.  I'll do that again - and next time, with more than just a couple of strawberries, as they'd make a lovely snack.



The strawberry cake finished off a birthday dinner just nicely.
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Spice Cake

For Christmas Day, I made myself a spice cake instead of having a rich Christmas pudding or cake.  I've made it since too - as I really like the recipe.  It's only small so you don't end up eating it every day for a week as desserts are meant to be treats!

It's gluten free (using GF oat flour), has no refined sugar (using low glycemic load coconut nectar instead), fat free (using applesauce instead), dairy free (using homemade almond milk instead) and full of lovely anti-oxidant spices.

I made it in a small half dome cake tin - so it looked a little like an English Christmas pudding.  You can, of course, add frosting/icing - but I like the spices so don't add anything.

If you don't have a half dome tin, bake it in muffin tins or a small square tin.

It was adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie's recipe for Egg Nog Spice cake.


Here's the recipe:

1/2 cup GF oat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tablespoon coconut nectar
2 tablespoons almond milk or other nut milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened organic applesauce
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1/4 cup organic raisins

Combine all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Mix well.
In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients, then pour the dry into the wet.
Stir until just combined, then pour in your selected baking tin.
Cook at 350 F for 20 - 25 minutes, depending on the tin.
Remove, let cool if you can - and enjoy.

You'll also enjoy the lovely smell it gives to your home.
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Anniversary cake for two - chocolate and ginger

It's our wedding anniversary today so I made a cake for two (it could even be for one, but not today!). Seventeen wonderful years together.

It's only 2 inches diameter by 2 inches high.  A perfect little celebratory cake.



So often one of the issues with eating desserts is that they feed a few and then you still have left overs.  Thus you don't just eat dessert one night as a treat, but you keep eating it to finish it off.  I'm quite taken with the idea of creating desserts for 1 or 2 people so you eat it in one sitting, for an occasion, and then that's your treat done.  Making desserts without eggs means its much easier to make smaller versions as you don't have to try to halve eggs etc.

This cake is chocolate and ginger.  I was inspired by the small cake idea from this German Chocolate Cake for One.   I used Katie's recipe, using a gluten free flour blend, coconut palm sugar instead of sugar and ginger extract instead of vanilla extract.  I baked it in the microwave but I think next time I'll use the oven. I'm not a keen microwave user.  I made a different icing/frosting using coconut cream and walnut butter.


The whole cake is gluten free, dairy free and refined sugar free. The sweetener I used throughout was coconut palm sugar, including grinding up the sugar to make a powdered version for the frosting.

It's yummy and cute!  And the icing/frosting is something I will definitely be using frequently.  It's delicious and thick and creamy and fluffy and just wonderful.  I'll be trying some different flavorings in it too - thinking it would go well in my cream puffs.....  I'll definitely be using it in my "food as medicine" classes next week.  It lasts a while in the fridge too and doesn't deflate.  A great dairy free whipped topping.

So this cake is for you, hubby dear. Happy anniversary xxxxxx.  Nearly as cute as you :-D
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The language of flowers - Part II

Following from yesterday's blog post about my book club gathering to discuss "The language of flowers" by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, you may have guessed it, but the other flower themed dessert I made was  a  roulade. Yes, it's been nearly two weeks since I've made a roulade!!! Had to get one in sometime!  This one was a rose and strawberry roulade.



As usual the dessert is refined sugar free, gluten free and dairy free. The rose flavoring comes from rose water added to the cream (whipped coconut cream).  Also in the cream are some strawberries and some chewy freeze dried strawberries from my sister.  They add a lovely texture to it.

Of course, it had to be decorated with edible rose petals.


The meaning of roses in the language of flowers varies depending on the color of the rose.

Burgundy rose - unconscious beauty
Moss rose - confession of love
Orange rose - fascination
Pale peach rose - modesty
Pink rose - grace
Purple rose - enchantment
Red rose - love
White rose - a heart unaquainted with love
Yellow rose - infidelity.

I chose a pink rose - for grace.



We had a great discussion about the book and flowers and foster care and many other things.  I made each of them a tied little bunch of flowers to take home with them.  The flowers I chose from the garden were:
sedum - for tranquility
sage - for good health and long life
marjoram - for blushes - with the hope that they feel young enough to still blush!

Click here for a printer friendly recipe for Rose Roulade
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The language of flowers - Part I

It was book club at my house this morning.  I had selected the book "The language of flowers" by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  I loved the book - and so did the rest of the group.


The book is about Victoria who spent her childhood in the foster-care system, moving from one place to another, never spending more than a year in any one home.  At the age of 18 she has to leave the system, even though she has no where to go.  But she gradually finds that she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them.  She learned the Victorian language of flowers from Elizabeth, one of her foster parents - and finds it to be a way she can communicate to others.  It follows her difficult life of learning to love when she has never been loved, going back and forth between her childhood and present day, as so many books seem to do nowadays!  It's a lovely and at times difficult read.


For my group, I decided to use the flower theme for our gathering today.  I served hibiscus tea and hibiscus sparkling water. The meaning of hibiscus is "delicate beauty" - and it's also really high in antioxidants.

I then made two desserts.  The first one was little flower pots for each person, as you see in the photos.



In tiny terra-cotta pots I made "soil" cake from quinoa, walnuts etc from a recipe I found on Golubka's blog, for ant-hill cake. I'd never heard of ant hill cake but this version is gluten free, refined sugar free and dairy free.  To be honest, it was a little too solid for my liking, a bit stodgy, but the taste was OK. Then I put a sprig of mint in the pot (thanks to my neighbor Janet who supplied the mint!) and topped it with a little pink, yellow or white edible daisy.

They looked very cute!  Oh, and the Victorian meaning for daisy is "innocence".


I'll show you the other delight tomorrow!  But in the meantime, I recommend the book. 
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Sister Mary Cake - version 2

No, although this could be considered a minimalist cake with only two ingredients, it isn't for a nun or created by a nun, rather it is a recipe for my sister, Mary!  It is a gluten free, sugar free, dairy free cake recipe.


I posted a photo of a three ingredient cake on my blog a couple of weeks ago and my sister asked for the recipe as she liked the look of it.  I hadn't been totally happy with the result of that one, so thought I'd try it again with some modification - so here is version 2 - for my sister, Mary.  It's still not quite there but hopefully version 3 will bring it all together.

Version 1 was made with eggs, lemon juice and almonds.

Version 2 is made with just eggs and walnuts.  It is then decorated with raspberries - so I guess they are the third ingredient.   I won't show the recipe yet as it's not good enough.

Folding the walnuts into the eggs
This time I made the mistake of putting the mixture in too small a diameter pan and so it was too tall for the frothy eggs to support it and thus it sank in the middle (see photo below).  In version 3, I think I'll try using two pans, one for each layer or one slightly wider pan.


Also, the flavor needed a little something to lift it.  When I halved the sponge, I put "mushed" raspberries inside and then put more whole raspberries on top. They went someway to "lifting" the flavor ( and also filling the dip in the top!) but I think what it needs is some citrus, so I'll try some lemon zest in version 3, both in the cake and with the mushed raspberries!

Before photographing the current cake, I felt it needed a sprinkle of something on top. Many cakes utilize powdered/icing sugar for this, but as this is a sugar free cake, I sifted some raspberry flour on top.  Which do you prefer the look of - no sprinkle, or sprinkle?



The recipe is developing.... but not quite there yet.  I'll keep you posted.  Patience, Sister Mary!!!!
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Walnut Roulade

Yes, I'm definitely in a roulade phase! This is the third type of roulade I've made in the last few weeks. This was for an event we held on Sunday.  It is refined-sugar free, gluten free and dairy free.


I was really pleased with how it came out.  It is made with just eggs, lemon juice, xylitol* and walnuts.  Of course, I then decorated it with fresh raspberries and then drizzled a little fruit-sweetened, sugar free raw chocolate and grated lemon zest on top.

It was eaten up very quickly, but I did manage a little slice, only to check how it tasted, of course!


*Xylitol is a natural sweetener, a sugar alcohol used as a substitute for sugar.  I like it and it seems to work well.  It is a cup for cup replacement for table sugar, so it's easy to substitute in recipes.  It is also granulated like sugar but you can grind it up finer, as necessary.

Xylitol is found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables and can be extracted from various berries, oats, mushrooms, as well as fibrous materials such as corn husks and birch.  Unlike other sweeteners, xylitol is actively beneficial for dental health, reducing caries to a third in regular use and it has also been shown to reduce the incidence of ear infections.


It has a much lower glycemic index than sugar - GI 7 for xylitol vs GI 80 for sugar, so it a great low calorie sugar substitute for diabetics  that doesn't cause a spike in blood glucose levels.

I don't notice any difference in taste at all between it and sugar, but I find it takes a little long to dissolve when I am cooking with it, for example if beating it with eggs, it stays granular longer so I just whisk it a little longer.

Have you ever used it? What are your thoughts?  If not, give it a go. I think you'll like it.
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Light as a feather cake

I made this cake with just three ingredients - and one of them was 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice!



It is lovely: so light as a feather.

It uses just eggs, lemon juice and almonds! How simple is that.

The frosting is pomegranate seeds in a cashew and almond cream.

I think this could be one of the recipes I use for my gluten free, dairy free, and sugar free dessert class coming up in October. I'll tell you more about that as the time gets closer and I've decided what we'll make.

Have a great weekend.  Hope your mood is as light as a feather!
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