I needed an autumnal cake or dessert which was both gluten- and dairy-free, for a forthcoming lunch for friends. Although I like to cook new recipes on these occasions, I prefer to try them at least once before cooking for guests, so planning meals often starts a few weeks ahead. I also wanted to use some of the hazelnuts we foraged last month, which have a very intense flavour now that they've matured in the shell.
On top of all that I was looking for baked desserts with an Italian theme, and chestnuts frequently cropped up in my searches. I did actually try to buy chestnut flour while on holiday in Italy recently, but we didn't find any good food shops - only small delicatessens selling pre-packed goods for tourists to bring home. We were on a busy touring schedule, so didn't have the time or means to go looking for shops which might have stocked it - I could only try those we passed while sightseeing. However, chestnut purée is readily available here, so I decided to use that instead.
I found two recipes that looked good; this one from Betty's Cookery School, even though it wasn't gluten-free, because it used hazelnuts, and this one from Azélia's Kitchen, because it was free from dairy and gluten, used more chestnut purée and added a little fat. I decided to use the recipe from Azélia's Kitchen, but use half ground hazelnuts and add some chopped hazelnuts too. I also left out the lemon zest, because I didn't have any, and really just wanted to know how well the recipe worked, rather than get exactly the same flavour. I used sunflower oil instead of melted butter.
The recipe was easy to follow, thanks to the very comprehensive instructions on the Azélia's Kitchen website. The most time consuming factor was shelling enough hazelnuts to get 150g, toasting them and then working to get the skins off. This process took as long as mixing and baking the cake! Where Azélia used 200g ground almonds, I used 100g ground almonds, 100g ground hazelnuts and 50g of chopped hazelnuts.
The volume of cake batter was huge - almost filling a 20cm round, 7cm deep cake tin - but the cake didn't rise much during cooking; it was more like a mousse setting to a soft, moist texture than a cake baking. I tested the cake for 'doneness' with a colour-changing probe, as Azélia mentioned that a test probe would come out clean even when the batter was still undercooked; the tip of the probe changes colour from black to red when the cake is done. When the cake came out of the oven, I ran a knife between the cake and the tin to loosen it, as I've seen that recommended in recipes where the cake is likely to sink while cooling. It's supposed to stop the centre sinking more than the edges, but that still happened to some extent. I think this is because the edges are more solid than the centre due to the crust formed during baking. I've seen this type of cake baked in a bain marie, but I guess that would add a lot to the cooking time.
I didn't get many good photos of this cake, due to the usual problems with making a brown lump look interesting, so you'll have to believe that it tasted much, much better than it looked!