Monday, September 15, 2014

Stunning Walnut Cake

Serves 12
Recipe from Aliwaks via Food52
Adapted and Husband-Tested in Alice’s Kitchen

Well, making this cake for the first time to serve to our book group was a bit stressful.  I even made a back-up dessert (now in the freezer for another time) because I wasn't sure how it would turn out.  But WOW!!  It was a stunner and sooooo tasty too. It was actually pretty easy to make. I’ve included all my notes for you so that making this won’t be so scary ;-) The bottom layer is a basic cake flavored with espresso powder.  The next layer is a cinnamon meringue with toasted walnuts which is baked on top of the uncooked cake batter (yes, that's right, uncooked batter.) Next, is a layer of vanilla whipped cream sweetened with a bit of maple syrup.  Atop that is another cake/meringue/toasted walnut layer. Begin making this the night before serving.  Despite how it looks, it isn't cloyingly sweet, which to us is a big plus.  And the textures are divine, moist, creamy, crunchy, and crispy all in one bite.  Now, I want to make the inspiration for this recipe and maybe a chocolate variety!

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter (for prepping pans)
1 cup heavy cream (The original recipe called for 1½ cups, but it was too much.)
½ vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
10 ½ Tablespoons butter, softened
2/3 cups brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar.)
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 teaspoons espresso powder (I buy this either on line or at a specialty food store.)
1 teaspoon salt (I always use Kosher salt.)
5 large egg yolks (room temperature)
1/3 cup milk
5 egg whites (room temperature)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ cup walnuts, chopped and toasted
1-3 Tablespoons maple syrup, to taste
2 Tablespoons powdered sugar (For dusting the cake before serving, totally optional.)

*The night before serving:  
Bring butter and eggs to room temperature by leaving on the counter overnight. Pour cream into a saucepan. Split and scrape vanilla bean into the cream and heat until just boiling. Remove from heat and let cool. Cover and chill overnight.

Baking Day:
Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare two 8-inch round spring form cake pans with buttered parchment paper. (I only have one 8-inch round spring form pan, so I made one cake and then when it was cool, I removed it from the pan, washed the pan out and then made the second layer.)
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and brown sugar until creamy and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, espresso powder, and salt. Add mixture to butter and sugar in 3 increments, mixing fully between additions.
Whisk together egg yolks and milk. Add to batter in 3 increments, incorporating fully each time. (The batter will be thick, almost like cookie dough.)  Spread the batter into prepared pan. (Actually, I thought this was the hardest part about making this cake.  I used an offset spatula.  The batter will barely cover the bottom of the pan.)
In a clean mixing bowl, whip egg whites until foamy. Add sugar and cinnamon and whip to soft peaks.
Spread the meringue over uncooked cake batter, cover with toasted walnuts and bake 35-40 minutes, until the meringue is crackly. Let cake cool completely. (The meringue will be quite puffy and smooth when taken out of the oven, but as it cools, it will fall and crack.  That’s the way it’s supposed to look.) When cool, run a plastic knife around the edge of the pan and then remove the cake.
Meanwhile, remove vanilla bean from cream. (If using the vanilla extract, just add it to the cream before whipping.) Add maple syrup and whip cream to soft peaks.
Place one cake on a cake plate, meringue side up. Cover with whipped cream. Top with the other cake, meringue side up.  Dust the cake with powdered sugar, if you so desire.
(I made the cakes in the late morning and then whipped the cream in the afternoon of the party.  About an hour before the guests arrived, I assembled the cake.  Other reviewers noted that you can chill the assembled cake in the fridge for an hour or so.)

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