Gluten-free chestnut and pear cake

img_1168It was Geoff’s book launch yesterday, and I wanted to make something (with mainly wild ingredients) for people to nibble on. We had a glut of pears and sweet chestnuts, so I started looking in the usual places, but chestnuts don’t seem to be widely used in baking, at least in this country. Or when they are, they’re paired with chocolate, which I thought might overwhelm their subtle taste.

I’d heard you could use them to make a (gluten-free) flour, as per the Italian ‘poor man’s cake’ Castagnaccio, which looks delicious – but it contains pine nuts and I wanted a recipe where all the ingredients could, in theory, be foraged in the UK. Eventually I found this recipe from Azalea’s Kitchen, which I’ve adapted by removing the chocolate and adding pears, and substituting fresh chestnuts for the chestnut puree.

This recipe was a great success, yielding a moist, light, subtly flavoured cake that wasn’t too sweet. Everyone liked it. BUT, I’m going to say this right up front, making chestnut flour is labour intensive! It took probably two hours to remove the shells from enough chestnuts (pro tip: wait for them to cool, they come out easier). So if anyone knows how to speed up that process, I’d be glad to hear it.

img_1166Once they’re shelled, you just crumble them or put them through a food processor. I also spread them out thinly to dry for an hour, as I thought that might help give a lighter texture, but I don’t know how necessary this is.

In future I’d be interested to try this recipe with honey instead of sugar, but I know that can create challenges with texture too, so on this occasion I played it safe!


4 hours to prepare the flour
20 mins to prepare the cake
50 mins to cook


  • 4 eggs
  • 200g sugar
  • 100g butter / coconut oil / other oil
  • 200g ground almonds / other nuts
  • 400g shelled chestnuts (about 500g before shelling)
  • zest of one lemon / orange
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 3 ripe pears


  1. Score the chestnuts and roast for 30 mins. Set aside to cool.
  2. Peel the chestnuts (ha, she says), then crumble them to a flour-like texture, or use a food processor. Spread the flour out to dry for an hour.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 180 (160 fan) and line a 20cm tin.
  4. Slice the pears and set aside.
  5. Separate the eggs. Whisk the yolks and sugar together until creamy.
  6. Add the melted butter, or whatever fat you’re using.
  7. Add the ground almonds, chestnut flour, lemon zest and baking powder and mix well.
  8. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, then fold gently into the cake mixture. Don’t over-mix.
  9. Pour the mixture into the tin and arrange the pear slices across the top.
  10. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean.

Leave to cool, and voila!



Fig and fairy ring cookies

P1070272Err, mushroom cookies? Yes, that’s what I said too. But Geoff assured me this wasn’t as crazy as it sounded. I’m still not quite convinced he was right.

Fairy ring mushrooms are one of the few fungi that grow in the summer in the UK, starting in June and going right through to November. The reason they can survive the hot weather is that they have a high concentration of the sugar trehalose. Even if they dry out completely, the sugar protects their cell structure and as soon as the next rain comes along they spring back to health.

I made a basic cookie mix and added the mushrooms, then got rather disheartened at how unpleasant the mixture looked. So I decided to add some fresh fig to half of the mixture, for a bit of seasonal colour.

They came out OK, but I don’t think I’d have been able to guess what the brown bits were if I hadn’t known they were mushrooms. The cookies were sweet, but not particularly tasty. The ones I’d added fig to were more interesting – and looked better too.

I think in future I will experiment with drying the fairy ring mushrooms first, to get a more concentrated taste and interesting texture. I might also reduce the proportion of sugar. This one definitely needs some work!

(makes about eight)
50g butter
30g caster sugar
70g plain flour
20g ground almonds
50g fresh fairy ring mushrooms 
1 fresh fig

Heat the oven to 180C. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the flour and almonds and mix. Chop the mushrooms and fig and add them to the mixture. Line a baking tray with baking paper, then roll the mixture into balls and flatten them into cookies. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.