With so many bakers exploring gluten-free options, here’s one to try: chestnut flour. When this traditional Italian ingredient turned up in local markets recently (fall is the best season for the new crop of chestnut flour), it seemed an interesting alternative for cookies or pastries, like the crescents (a.k.a. Russian tea cookies, Mexican wedding cookies) in which chestnut pieces substitute so gloriously for pecans or walnuts. (A note: we’re not talking about water chestnut flour here. That’s a totally different animal).
So, admittedly, chestnut flour’s gluten-free properties weren’t even a factor until the idea of incorporating it into a yeast bread came to mind. Paleo bread recipes, common across the Internet, weren’t the ticket; the search was on for a more rustic recipe in the Italian tradition. Chestnut trees were once so common in Italy that the flour was considered a downmarket ingredient, used in pasta, polenta, cakes and breads to cut the more precious wheat flour.
That’s how it’s used in this recipe for Chestnut-Walnut Bread which needs some regular flour to develop the gluten, and thus structure. Chestnut flour’s naturally nutty, somewhat sweet character gives gives the bread an alluringly distinctive taste in a loaf that bakes up with a tender, finely textured crumb — denser than a typical wheat flour loaf, but not heavy.
On the other hand, chestnut flour’s natural properties make it a more a natural fit for quick breads, like this Chestnut-Chocolate Tea Bread that bakes up beautifully moist and tender.