Ready for a party! Photo courtesy California
This past Spring, the California Walnut Board teamed up with Food52 to challenge its cooking community to create their best recipes with walnuts. With almost 200 entries that included everything from muhammara dip* and creamy asparagus walnut pasta to a goat cheese walnut pizza, the results were varied as well as delicious.
The first place win went to a baker with the screen name Aliwaks, who created The Walnut Variation: A Cake. A sophisticated confection layered with meringue, whipped cream and flavored with maple syrup, vanilla and plenty of crunchy walnuts, this is a cake for a gourmet cake lover—or for a holiday party or other special occasion.
Says Aliwaks, “Recently, I discovered The World’s Best Cake—a lovely vanilla affair with whipped cream, meringue and almonds. Ever since I made this soft, chewy, crisp, crunchy, and billowy cake, I’ve been pondering variations on the theme. This is the Walnut Variation: coffee-flavored cake, cinnamon meringue, toasted walnuts, and maple vanilla whipped cream.”
While we’d never call this “health food,” the good news is that walnuts are the healthiest of nuts. Here’s the scoop.
*A hot pepper dip originally from Aleppo, Syria.
RECIPE: “THE WALNUT VARIATION” WALNUT CAKE
Ingredients For 1 Cake/16 Servings
The night before:
1. SEPARATE the eggs and let the egg whites sit on the counter overnight, covered with a clean cloth.
2. POUR the cream into a saucepan. Split and scrape a vanilla bean into the cream and heat until just boiling. Remove from heat and let cool. Cover and chill in the fridge overnight.
The next day:
3. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Prepare a 9 x 12-inch cake pan with buttered parchment. (Alternatively, you can prepare two 9-inch round cake pans.)
4. CREAM the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, until creamy and fluffy—about 3 to 4 minutes.
5. WHISK together the flour, baking powder, espresso powder and salt. Add the mixture to the butter and sugar in 3 increments, mixing fully between additions.
6. WHISK together the egg yolks and milk. Add to batter in 3 increments, incorporating fully each time. Scrape batter into prepared pan.
7. WIPE down they bowl and whisk attachment with vinegar. In a clean mixing bowl, whip the egg whites until foamy. Add the sugar and cinnamon and whip to soft peaks.
8. SPREAD the meringue over the cake batter, cover with toasted walnuts and bake 35-40 minutes, until the meringue is crackly. Let cake cool completely. Meanwhile…
9. REMOVE the vanilla bean from the cream. Add the maple syrup and whip the cream to soft peaks.
10. CUT the cake in half and place one half on a cake plate, meringue side up. Cover with whipped cream. Top with remaining half, meringue side up. You will end up with a 2-layer square cake from your single- layer rectangular cake. (If you’re doing this in two round cake pans, just top one with the other.) Let sit 1-2 hours.
To go completely over-the-top, serve with a dark chocolate sauce punched up with a few dashes of walnut bitters.