This is a slight variation on the traditional Italian chestnut cake which is made with olive oil and rosemary. Using chestnut flour and adding carob to the ingredients, make this cake tastes like an incredibly rich chocolate cake. Keep in mind that when mixing chestnut flour, the batter might seem very runny. The chestnut flour will very quickly absorb the liquids ingredients. Chestnuts are traditionally dried out in Italy above the hot kitchen on thin slats for 8 months which make the nuts incredibly dry. They are then ground into a fine powdery flour.
The dried cherries in the recipe go very well with the earthy flavours of the chestnut, carob, walnuts and vanilla, while the fresh cherries in the salsa give the cake a fresh fruity finish. The fruit part of the recipe can be changed to pineapple (dried and fresh); apricots and even prunes with fresh plums for the salsa.
20 dried cherries, halved / ½ cup dried cranberries
4 tbsp good quality dark red grape juice
1½ cups (240 g) chestnut flour
1 tbsp corn starch
3 tbsp vegan carob chips
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
½ cup walnuts, chopped, toasted in the oven, then ground finely
1 tbsp hazelnut / macadamia nut butter
2 tsp + 5 tsp walnut oil
2 - 3 tbsp maple syrup, warmed
1¼ cups apple juice
12 walnut halves
1½ cups chopped fresh black cherriesPre-heat the oven to a hot 220°C (430°F). Brush a heatproof ceramic pie dish (square or round) with walnut oil, or use a silicone baking dish.
Soak the dried cherries or cranberries in the grape juice for an hour, or preferably overnight.
Place the chestnut flour, corn starch, carob chips, baking soda and salt in a bowl and stir to mix. Add the fine walnuts.
Add the nut butter and 2 tsp of walnut oil and the apple juice to the flour and stir until combined. This is a runny, cream-like dough.
Drain the dried fruit and discard the soaking liquid (or drink it). Stir the dried fruit into the batter. Pour the batter into the baking dish. Place the walnut halves on the cake and pour the remaining 5 tsp of walnut oil over the batter.
Bake in the oven on the middle shelf for 25 - 27 minutes until firm. It is normal for the cake to crack all over the surface. Place a sheet of tin foil over the cake for the last 10 minutes if it is becoming too dark.
Remove the cake from the oven. Pour the warm maple syrup over the cake so that it can be absorbed.
For the salsa: Blend ½ cup of the cherries in a liquidizer to a purée. Stir in the rest of the cherries.
Serve the cake warm, or at room temperature. Cut the cake into slices or squares and serve with the cherry salsa on the side.
Makes enough for 8 generous portions.
Hint: By changing the dried fruit and fruit juice in the recipe, one achieves a completely different taste to this versatile cake recipe. Try for instance chopped fresh pineapple with cinnamon and coconut milk; or white grape juice with halved black grapes and vanilla powder.
Laurinda Erasmus is a vegan chef and author of a vegan recipe book, called Benessere well-being: vegan & sugar-free eating for a healthy life-style, by Quinoa Publishing. The book has over 520 recipes, each with a colour photograph, taken by the author herself. The book won a gold medal at the Living Now Book Awards in New York, USA. She is passionate about the vast possibilities of creating plant-based meals, the increased wellness and energy through plant nutrition and making a smaller impact on our precious ecosystem. Through her book and vegan classes, she shows healthy and fun ways of how to bring more plant-based meals into one's diet. She also travels extensively, always collecting new recipes and re-writing them as vegan dishes. She shares her tips for vegan travellers accompanied by vegan travel recipes on her blogsite http://veganwellbeing.wordpress.com/ and to view her vegan recipe book see http://www.veganwellbeing.net/.