By Cindy Ruth
This week our featured ingredient is chestnuts. I've eaten chestnuts a few times, but I never enjoyed them very much. I thought the texture was rather mealy. I liked the flavor, so I figured that I just never had really good ones since most people seem to love them.
Chestnuts are hard to find here in Anchorage. I didn't want to have to mail order any, then I remembered that a few years ago on a visit to Tuscany, I brought back a couple of jars of chestnuts in syrup. I think I ate the first jar on top of ice cream, and for whatever reason never opened the second jar. I won't tell you how many years past expiration they were, because you'd think I was crazy to eat them. But internet searches led me to discover that sweet jams and fruits rarely go bad. They just might deteriorate in quality. So I tasted one, and it was delicious. No funny taste, and I ate the first one about 8 hours ago and I'm not sick yet.
The next decision was what to make. I decided to make apples one of my complimentary ingredients. I was trying to think about what I could make when something got me to thinking about those old-fashioned applesauce snack cakes. You know, the one where you mix everything together right in the pan you're going to be baking it in.
So since baking is somewhat of an art, I had to have a basic recipe to adapt from. A google search turned up a recipe from TreeTop. I skipped the allspice called for in the recipe, and instead used cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. I also skipped the lemon juice and used rum instead. And then most apple snack cakes have raisins. I don't remember whether this original recipe did or not, but I decided to instead use the drained, chopped chestnuts.
The cake turned out really good! Much better than I expected. I would by no means consider this a snack cake now. The rich spices and chestnuts and rum definitely elevate it above that. It would be perfect for any dinner party, plain with just a dusting of powdered sugar on top, or with a little lightly sweetened whipped cream.
If you don't happen to have any chestnuts in syrup that you brought back from Italy on hand, you could always just use raisins (I would prefer golden raisins) or any other dried fruit.
Apple Spice Cake with Chestnuts
1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
grating of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon rum
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup apple juice
1/2 cup drained, chopped chestnuts in syrup
In an ungreased 8 or 9" square pan (I used a 10" round pan), combine flour, brown sugar, spices, and soda. Mix well with fork or whisk. Sprinkle with the chestnuts. In a separate bowl or large mixing cup, combine apple sauce, vanilla, rum, oil, egg, and apple juice. Mix thoroughly with fork or whisk. Add liquid ingredients to flour mixture in pan, and mix until all ingredients are combined. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 - 60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (The original recipe called for baking for 40 minutes. I had to back mine for 60 minutes or even a little longer to get it cooked in the center.)