Walnut cakes feature in French, Greek and Eastern European cooking, ranging from simple, rustic creations to elaborate filled and layered tortes and gateaux. Ground walnuts are not available commercially as they turn rancid easily. Grinding your own walnuts is difficult as, during the process, the oils are released making the mixture moist. However, if you add a dry ingredient, such as flour, it will absorb the oils. While it is possible to make a cake entirely with finely ground walnuts, the texture will be dense and quite wet, which is why nut flour is often lightened with wheat flour. The high oil content of nut cakes mean they have excellent keeping qualities.
ITALIAN WALNUT AND COFFEE CAKE
150 gm walnuts, plus 16 walnut halves
Extra 250 gm caster sugar
250 gm [1 cup] self-raising flour
100 gm soft unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
100 ml freshly brewed espresso coffee cooled
2 tbsp honey Mascarpone and Nocello [walnut liqueur], to serve
1. Process walnuts, a large pinch of salt and 100gm sugar in a food processor until finely chopped, then add flour and process until mixture is fine.
2. Using an electric mixer, beat remaining sugar and butter until light and fluffy, then add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Stir in vanilla, then flour mixture alternately with coffee until just combined.
3. Spoon mixture into a greased and baking paper base-lined 20cm-round cake tin, level top, then bake at 180C for 50-55 minutes, covering top with baking paper after 20 minutes, or until a cake tester withdraws clean. Stand cake in pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool. Brush hot cake with honey and place walnut halves around outer edge of cake.
4. Serve cake in wedges with mascarpone and small glasses of walnut liqueur. Cake will keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
For a filling to transform the walnut and coffee cake above from an afternoon tea cake to a more elaborate dessert, split the cake in half horizontally, then whisk 2 egg yolks and ¼ cup honey until very thick, add 250gm mascarpone and 2 tbsp Nocello and whisk just until smooth. Fold in 2 egg whites beaten to firm peaks and sandwich cake together. Make an almond and orange variation of the walnut cake, by replacing walnuts with almonds; vanilla extract with finely grated rind of 2 oranges, and 100ml orange juice for the coffee. Serve cake with glasses of chilled Amaretto liqueur or coffee.