Torta di Castagne (Chestnut Cake)

I have a confession to make…after 17 years of growing chestnuts I have finally made my first Torta di Castagne (chestnut cake). So why did it take me so many years to attempt this…well two excuses time and fear. I’m not a great cake maker…you know common problems the cake stodgy or sunken in the middle and the big one…the cake sticking to the pan and falling apart! Well I faced my fears and the cake was a huge success…beautifully cooked and in one piece…oh and delicious!

This cake is easy to make, gluten free and very moreish!

Torta di Castagne

Torta di Castagne

Torta di Castagne

100g Almond Meal

230g Caster Sugar

100g Good Quality Dark Chocolate (70% cocoa)

800g Fresh Chestnuts

2 Cups Milk

4 Eggs Separated

100g Unsalted Butter

Grated Zest of Half an Orange

Butter and line a 23cm spring form cake tin.

Pre-heat the oven, 160 degrees celsius (fan forced), 180 degrees regular oven.

Peel the chestnuts using a potato peeler (make sure you remove the bitter inner skin to reveal the cream chestnut), chop the chestnuts. Add chopped chestnuts to saucepan with one cup of the milk, simmer until tender (about 15  minutes), add more milk if required.

In the meantime grate the chocolate and add to the almond meal, combine. Melt the butter over low heat, set aside to cool.

When tender pass the chestnuts through a sieve. I left a few chopped pieces of chestnut to give more structure to the cake. The result a chestnut puree with small chopped pieces. When cool add the chestnut puree to the almond and chocolate, combine.

In a large bowl beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick. Add the cool melted butter, combine. Add the chestnut mixture and orange zest, combine.

Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, fold into the chestnut mixture.

Pour the chestnut mixture into the cake tin over the back of a wooden spoon (folds in more air). Make sure the cake mixture is level in the tin.

Bake in the centre of the oven for one hour.

Remove from oven, allow to cool for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the cake from the pan and cool on a wire rack.

Dust with icing sugar and serve with or without cream.

Enjoy!

 

Peel Chestnuts

Peel Chestnuts

 

 

Slice of Chestnut Cake

Slice of Chestnut Cake

History of Growlers Creek Grove

We have been caretakers of our grove for the last 17 years and have never forgotten why we fell in  love with our property….it was the magnificent stand of  nine 140 year old chestnut trees that stand in a row overlooking the Wandi Valley. Over time we have been putting together pieces of a puzzle to answer a simple question……..who planted the trees?

140 year old chestnut trees

140 year old chestnut trees

It all started with an aerial photo of Wandi that was probably taken in the early 1920’s. The stand of nine trees are clearly visible in this photo, thus they were well established trees. We examined buildings in the photo, studied history of  Wandiligong (formerly Growlers Creek) in an attempt to date the photo.  We seemed to be getting nowhere and turned our attention to looking after the trees, removing dead branches and suckers. This lead to our next piece of the puzzle….Rohan painstakingly counted the growth rings on a branch of one of our trees that had died 20 to 30 years ago. The thickness of the growth rings were studied and we used Bright rainfall records to determine the most likely year that the branch started growing. This gave us a year 1894! The dead branch that we were studying was 4 meters off the ground suggesting a planting year of circa 1874.

But our question still remained unanswered….who planted the trees?

A title search gave us a surprising result our property was first owned in 1945, prior to this it was crown land. The first owner was Charles Williams. Charles was born in 1878, he married Edith in 1912 and moved into the house that was built by the Tobias family on Williams Road. This house and land abuts Growlers Creek Grove, Charles must have leased this land for farming and in 1912 he planted chestnut trees and an orchard on the flat near Williams Road  and the track to our property which is fittingly called Tobias Track. We have been in contact with his descendants, his grand-daughter  Alison and son in-law Lewis. They have fond memories of Wandiligong, the vegetable patch, fruit and apple orchard and of course the majestic chestnut trees. Alison recalls enjoying roasted chestnuts cooked on an open fire by her grand father Charles ….this was a treat before they went to bed. We have invited Lewis and Alison to our Grove and are looking forward to meeting them.

Charles Williams

Charles Williams

Charles planted the old chestnut trees on the lower portion of our grove….but who planted the stand of nine trees up on the hill?

Who would have planted chestnut trees on land that they did not own?

We believe that an Italian immigrant planted the trees. Antonio Masciorini came to Australia in 1859 from Ticino, and Italian Region in Switzerland. In 1867 he purchased Mantons Drapery Store on the corner of Williams Road and Morses Creek. Antonio lived at these premises, less than 500 meters from the chestnut trees planted high on our block.

The Ticino region has been a chestnut area for thousands of years where they have forests of chestnuts castagneti (chestnut woods). Here chestnuts grow on Crown land, on steep slopes in Northern Italy where they have cold winters and warm summers, well-drained soil and plenty of rain. Foraging for chestnuts in these woods is a family and cultural tradition.

An Italian immigrant would naturally want to recreate this nostalgia in their new home at Growlers Creek (Wandiligong), Australia.