I am not a cake person. I’ll take a bubbling apple pie, or tart strawberry-rhubarb crumble any day over the starchy, cloying trollops that usually pass for cake. This preference does not apply, however, when it comes to my family’s traditional birthday cake. In fact, I’ll take this cake over the aforementioned desserts. Any day.
I must be breaking all kinds of family code by giving away this highly guarded recipe, but it is really too good to be kept in captivity. Over the years, I have released it on select test groups who now join me in the worship of its ambrosial flavor and moist crumb.
Following tradition, I made this cake for our combined birthday. This gave me a chance to test run my new prized possession: a vintage Foley Sift Chine triple screen I’d pounced upon at a recent estate sale for a measly 5 bucks. I am in love with its robin’s egg stripes. Even better, it works like a dream, delivering powdery drifts in a matter of seconds.
Normally when I post recipes, I take the time to capture the finished product in all its glory while Jacob looks on in something close to pain. Swathed in peaks of thick, mousse-like buttercream with a kitchen full of its warm, nutty aroma and two keen eyed men staring over my shoulder, this cake stood no chance.
I apologize, therefore, that my only documentation of the finished product is a sad close-up of the very last piece dribbled with extra frosting.
I could eulogize for hours over the perfection of nut and chocolate meeting in glorious, creamy union, could go on for pages about how I’d love to nestle down on the nut-brown expanse of cake with a fluffy blanket of sweet buttercream like one of Will Cotton‘s girls, but instead I’ll just leave you with the recipe. Enjoy my darlings!
Walnut Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Unlike most of my recipes, these measurements are in grams…damn Europeans, right? While a good scale is indispensable to serious baking, the approximate translations for this recipe are: 100 grams of flour = 3/4 cup, 100 grams of sugar = 1/2 cup. Remember to double the cake ingredients for two layers if desired.
Ingredients For Cake:
- 200 grams ground walnuts or pecans (this is NOT the same as nut flour. I recommend buying whole nuts and grinding them fresh.)
- 100 grams sifted flour (or non-gluten flour mix for a gluten-free version!)
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 200 grams granulated sugar
- 4 eggs, yolks and whites separated
Ingredients For Frosting:
- 4 egg yolks
- 250 grams sugar, divided into 2 parts
- 3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1/2 lb soft butter (room temp)
Method for Cake:
Prepare a 9″ round cake pan with butter/oil and flour (use a springform pan if you have one…I don’t sadly, but with some trimming, my pie pan worked fine). I typically make a two layer cake, for which you can either slice the single 9″ once it has cooled, or double the cake recipe. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
If you are using whole nuts, place no more than 2 cups at a time into the bowl of a food processor and grind, pulsing several times to avoid turning the nuts butter. Stop once the nuts are the texture of medium-fine breadcrumbs. Set aside.
In a medium sized bowl, whip the egg whites until quite stiff and set aside. In a separate, large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and the egg yolks until think and foamy.
Sift the the flour and baking soda together in a separate bowl.
Fold the ground nuts and flour into the egg yolks and sugar in small batches, alternating with the egg whites. This is the most critical part since it will determine the airiness of the cake, so go slowly using a gently, almost horizontal folding method.
Once combined, transfer the mixture to your cake pan and bake for 20-30 minutes, until a tester comes out clean but the cake is still moist. Do not over bake! Set on a rack to cool.
Method for Frosting:
In a medium-sized bowl, beat the egg yolks with half the sugar until pale and fluffy. Mix in the cocoa powder. In a small saucepan, bring the milk almost to boil. Add the milk very slowly to the sugar and egg mixture, just a bit at a time, while beating.
Transfer the custard to a heavy bottomed saucepan and stir at low heat with a wooden spoon until the mixture has thickened and coats the spoon. Remove from heat and nest the saucepan in a shallow bowl or pan filled with ice water. Continued to beat the mixture until completely cooled, adding more ice to the water as necessary.
In a medium-sized bowl, beat the butter with the remaining sugar until fluffy. Slowly pour in the cooled custard and mix until smooth and creamy. You may want to refrigerate the buttercream frosting before applying to your cooled cake. Do not overwork the buttercream when you apply it to the cake, as it may soften and slump. I find there’s enough frosting for a double-layered cake.