Chestnuts roasting over an open fire used to be pretty popular in the States, but that was before chestnut trees that had been imported from Asia caused the American stocks to fall prey to a nasty fungus. By the 1940s, chestnut trees were very few and far between.
Roasted chestnuts remain popular in other countries, though street vendors still cook them over open fires in the public squares of many towns. (In Spain, they’re called castañas asadas; in Switzerland, they’re heiße Maroni.) Others eat them candied, grilled, puréed, in stuffing, as a stand-in for coffee, and even as beer. Italians are particularly creative with chestnuts in both savory and sweet dishes.
While I’m not a huge fan of the actual roasted nuts (although I would love to try chestnut beer!), I do enjoy using chestnut flour in sweet baked goods. Chestnuts are like almonds: they’re dry enough to be ground into a nice fine flour, but they’re still moist enough to make soft cookies and breads. Flavor-wise, chestnut flour can be the main attraction (as in these snickerdoodles) or can blend into a pleasant background. In this recipe partly in homage to Italian cookie traditions, partly because they pair well with chestnuts, and partly because I think they’re sadly underutilized in American cuisine I’ve also included pine nuts.
Note: since chestnuts are nuts, they’re naturally gluten-free.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease two cookie sheets.
Whisk in a medium bowl:
2 cups chestnut flour (if you’re a bit short on chestnut flour, use 1 cup chestnut and 1 cup sorghum or brown rice flour)
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
Cream together in a large bowl:
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter, preferably from grass-fed cows
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup sucanat (depends on sweet you want your cookies to be)
Beat into the butter mixture:
2 eggs, preferably from free-range hens
Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
Also stir in:
1/4 cup pine nuts
Spoon little mounds of cookie dough onto the greased sheets. (I use an ordinary teaspoon to ensure that I get uniformly-sized cookies.) Be sure to leave an inch or two between each soon-to-be cookie they’ll spread as they bake.
Bake for about 12 minutes and check to see if the edges are turning golden brown. If they are, your cookies are ready to be eaten! Store uneaten cookies in an airtight container for up to a week.