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    Vanilla and Chestnut Cake (Le Castanhet)

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    Vanilla and Chestnut Cake (Le Castanhet)

    This richly autumnal, vanilla-scented cake is traditionally served at a festive meal during the gathering-in of the chestnut harvest in the Ardèche. You can vary the recipe to make an upside-down pear and chestnut cake by dusting the base of the tin with caster sugar, then placing slivers of ripe, peeled, cored pear on the base of the tin before adding the cake mixture. Bake as below, but allow another 5 minutes.

    • Preparation time: 25 minutes
    • Cooking time: 40 minutes, plus cooling
    • Total time: 1 hour 5 minutes 60 minutes 5 minutes

    Serves: 6 - 8


    • Caramelised Chestnuts
    • 50g caster sugar
    • 4 tbsp water
    • 100g whole, cooked and peeled chestnuts
    • 350g unsweetened chestnut purée
    • 25g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
    • 1 tsp vanilla essence
    • 1 tbsp brandy (optional)
    • 3 eggs, separated
    • 150g caster sugar
    • 25g self-raising flour


    1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4. Line a 20cm diameter cake tin with greaseproof paper and butter it generously.
    2. Put the chestnut purée into a small pan and warm gently over a very low heat for 5 minutes. Beat in the butter, then add the vanilla essence and brandy, if using.
    3. Whisk the egg whites until stiff (but make sure you stop before they go grainy). Set aside. Whisk the yolks until they begin to lighten in colour, then gradually add the sugar, whisking until the mixture is thick and white. Fold the chestnut purée mixture into the yolk mixture, then sieve in the self-raising flour and fold in. Finally, fold in the whisked egg whites. Tip the mixture into the tin, smooth the top, and bake for 35-40 minutes until firm and set. Leave to cool completely in the tin. The cake will sink a little.
    4. When cold, run a knife round the sides of the cake, tip it out onto a plate and peel off the paper.
    5. To garnish with caramelised chestnuts, put the water and sugar in a pan and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Then increase the heat and boil for 3-4 minutes until the syrup begins to turn golden. Stir in the chestnuts, remove from the heat and leave to cool, then pour on top of the cake. Serve with crème fraîche.

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