Madeira Castanha or Chestnut Gastronomy

Madeira Castanha or Chestnut Gastronomy

Chestnut Gastronomy on Madeira

Castanhas Madeira Chestnuts

The castanha fruit is here.  It is now chestnut season. According to some renowned Madeira chefs, chestnuts are very versatile.  There are amongst the oldest products used in Portuguese cuisine.  Chestnuts were known and used before the potato.  Chestnuts were a source of flour for baking and even for bread making. Even today, chestnuts are an integral part of Madeiran gastronomy.

Here are several Madeiran chestnut recipes to get into the autumn mood.

Chestnut Liqueur – Licor de Castanha


  • 1 kg of sugar
  • 1 liter of water
  • 1 liter of strong alcohol
  • 1 kg of chestnut
  • 2 drops of vanilla extract
  • One small fennel


  • Remove the prickly husks of the chestnuts.
  • Pour the water in a pan, add the chestnuts and fennel.
  • Let it cook until one can remove the skin of the chestnuts easily.
  • Drain the water, peel, and crumble the chestnuts.
  • Once cooled, pour the hand crumbled chestnuts into a jar.
  • Fill the jar with a liter of alcohol, covering all the chestnuts.
  • Let the mixture infuse for a week, stirring daily.  
  • Prepare a syrup by mixing the sugar and the water together.
  • Let the syrup boil for 15 minutes while stirring.
  • Once the syrup cooled off, add the chestnut infused alcohol and the vanilla.
  • Mix well.
  • Pass the liqueur through a fine mesh strainer.
  • Bottle it.
  • Enjoy 😊 but drink with moderation.
Chestnut Liqueur Madeira
Curral das Freiras 
Licor de Castanha

Chestnut Soup – Sopa de Castanhas

If you are using dried chestnuts, soak them overnight and cook them until tender (about an hour).  If you are using them fresh, boil them for a few minutes, skin them, then boil again for another 20 minutes.  You can also find already prepared chestnuts in some stores.


  • 1.5 liters of vegetable stock
  • 150 grams of fresh or prepared chestnuts
  • 500 grams of potatoes, peeled and cut in pieces
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in pieces
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut in pieces
  • 1 chopped medium onion
  • 4 tablespoons of bacon bits or lardon (leave them out if vegetarian or vegan) Here are vegetarian bacon substitute ideas
  • 2 tablespoons of oil
  • Fresh flat parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste.


  • In a heavy bottomed saucepan heat the oil, toss in the bacon bits (or not) and the onion.
  • Fry gently until golden.
  • Add all the other ingredients and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour or until the vegetables are soft.
  • Serve topped with parsley.


  • I usually double the quantity of chestnut.
  • You can also puree the soup.  It turns out nice and creamy.
  • For another variation, add 200ml of Madeira wine about 5 to 10 minutes before the vegetables are ready. Then puree the soup.

Chestnut Cake or Bolo de Castanha

Here is the recipe for a typical Madeiran chestnut cake.


  • 300 grams of chestnuts (prepared or already cooked and peeled)
  • 125 grams of sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract


  • Preheat the oven to 160°C – Gas mark 3
  • Prepare a 20cm circular cake tin – grease it thoroughly or use baking paper
  • Cream the chestnuts in a blender or mash them very finely with another utensil
  • Separate the eggs
  • In a separate container, beat the egg yolks and the sugar
  • Add the baking powder and vanilla.
  • Add this mixture to the chestnut purée.
  • Beat the egg white until the foam soft peaks.
  • Gently fold the hard egg whites into the cake mixture.
  • Cook the cake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out dry and clean.
Bolo de castanha - Chestnut cake 

This cake does not use flour nor milk or grease. 


There are several restaurants in Curral das Freiras which specialize in chestnut dishes. So, should you not want to cook, why not try the delicious dishes of “Sabores do Curral“. You won’t be disappointed.

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