Chestnut Cake Ancient Roman Style

It’s very cold today and grey and dreary.  Our festive Christmas Eve dinner has become a memory of lovely past Christmas’, but I remind myself that it’s still the Christmas season.  Traditionally we have observed it through January 6, Epiphany.  Epiphany means manifestation or revelation and I like to ponder what the coming year will have to show for itself.

In the meantime, we are still enjoying get-togethers with friends.  I want to re-capture the holiday ambiance of our Christmas Eve dinner for our friends, so I will duplicate a chestnut cake I made in what I call ancient Roman style.

It started with an old cookbook that I had forgotten about, Christmas Feasts from History by Lorna J. Sass.  The first one was pre-Christian, a menu from an ancient Roman Saturnalia, which was celebrated around December 25th.  So, I prepared lentils with chestnuts, pork with apricots, cabbage salad with coriander dressing; but we wanted to end the meal with a cake.  I don’t know if the ancient Romans had cake, but they did have bread.  Not too far apart, bread and cake.

I had also found a recipe online for Chestnut Irish Whiskey Cake and I wanted to try it.  I decided to adapt it, using ingredients what would have been available to ancient Romans.  Actually, almost all the ingredients in the recipe would have been except for sugar, Irish whiskey, and baking powder.  I substituted honey and a pinch of baking soda for the sugar.  The Romans did have grapes and of course made wine.  So, I used brandy, which is fortified wine, instead of Irish whiskey.  Since, the ancients leavened bread with what we now call “starter”, the baking powder will have to remain an anachronism.

So here is my adaption of Chestnut Irish Whiskey Cake.  I am sorry that there were no credits or sources for this recipe on my print-out.  I got it on-line some time ago.  Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.


Chestnut cake surrounded by  ancient Roman delicacies — almonds, prunes oranges, figs, dates


Chestnut Cake Ancient Roman Style

10 tablespoons sweet butter (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons)

2/3 – 3/4 cup honey (depending on how sweet you would like your cake to be)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ – 1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Pinch of baking soda

1 ½ cups flour

1 cup chestnut flour

3 eggs

2/3 cup brandy

1/c cup chopped hazelnuts (or walnuts)

1 medium apple chopped

¾ cup raisins


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and butter a spring form or bundt pan.

In a bowl combine the dry ingredients, stirring with a whisk until well-mixed.

In a separate bowl, cream butter and honey until blended.

Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.

Add the nuts, apple and raisins and mix thoroughly until evenly distributed.

Add the dry ingredients a little at a time, alternating with the brandy.  Mix until smooth.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until cake springs back when touched in middle.

You can drizzle more brandy over the cooled cake.  If you do so, you can store the cake for a day or two before serving.  We serve it with whipped cream on the side, but it’s good plain too.