Monday, November 02, 2015
Fall Walnut Honey Cake
We are finally getting some autumn rain, which is a true blessing considering that we have been short on rain for at least four years now. I love autumn and the cooler weather it brings. It has been late coming this year, with lots of days in the mid-80s recently.
While the sun was still shining a week or so ago I gathered walnuts on our back deck. Although I do want the limb of the walnut tree that hangs over the deck to be pruned back, it really is handy that so many walnuts collect on the deck and get properly dried out by the sun, then are easy to collect. After gathering the nuts I just sweep the leaves and husks and broken shells (from the ones that our silly dog cracks with his teeth and somehow gets the nutmeats from) off the deck, ready for the next batch of nuts to drop.
Yesterday I watched some back episodes of Fixer Upper (HGTV) while shelling the nuts. I ended up with about three cups of fresh walnuts!
Since I also had a nice bottle of honey, I decided to make a honey walnut cake and serve it with apple slices that had been cooked in a little more honey. I'm glad that the apples released some juice as they simmered because then I had a little honey-apple juice mixture to drizzle over the top of each serving. The cake is delicious, with just a hint of orange, but it is dry. I just made up a honey syrup with a little orange liqueur in and brushed it on the cake to add some moisture. Will try it this evening and see if it improves the cake.
This is an easy cake to make if you have a food processor. The nuts get toasted, then rubbed in a clean towel to loosen some of the skin. I didn't find that much skin was loosened, so may skip the rubbing part next time, but the toasting add a depth of flavor, so don't skip that part.
I used non-dairy butter instead of the real thing and added a bit of the flour mixture (yes, gluten free flour) to the creaming butter, sugar, and honey so that it would whip better. I also put a tablespoon of the granulated sugar into the food processor, with the rest going into the butter mixture. That extra grit with the nuts helps in getting the nuts to be finely ground but not walnut butter.
This makes a single layer but you could probably double the recipe to make a stunning layer cake, maybe frosted with some maple or caramel frosting. You could also make the syrup (I think it would still be a good idea to brush some on, even for a layer cake) honey-orange and then use an orange buttercream. If you stick with one layer like I did, a side of cooked fruit is nice, but so is a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream. The recipe called for honey coated walnuts to decorate the top, but I skipped that. It would be a nice garnish if you like.
Honey Walnut Cake
from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey
1 1/2 cups walnut pieces
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur Flour's gluten-free mixture)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Optional: 10 nice walnut halves and 2 tablespoons honey for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan.
Spread the walnuts on a sheet pan and toast in the preheated oven for 6 minutes. Cool and rub the nuts in a towel to remove the loose skins.
Grind the nuts in a food process with 1/2 cup of the flour (and 1 tablespoon of the sugar if doing it my way) until very fine. In a medium bowl, combine the ground nuts, remaining flour, baking powder, and salt. Reserve.
In a standing mixer bowl, with a paddle attachment (or with an electric hand mixer) beat the room temperature butter with the honey and the sugar (remaining sugar if doing it my way) until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly with the orange zest and vanilla. Add it in thirds to the butter mixture, beating well to incorporate egg mixture after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients and mix until fully incorporated.
Spread the batter evenly in the prepared cake pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 35 - 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
For the optional walnut topping: while the cake is baking, toast ten walnut halves on a sheet pan for 8 minutes . While they are still warm, rub the nuts in a towel to remove the excess skin and place them in a small bowl. Add the 2 tablespoons of honey and stir until the walnuts are coated. Reserve the walnut halves at room temperature to garnish the cake when it is finished.
Cool the cake in the pan for 5 minutes, and then run a knife around the edges and turn the cake out on to a cooling rack, then carefully turn over so that the top side is up. Cool completely. Garnish the edges of the cake with the walnut halves. This cake is nice served with a dollop of whipped cream.
Honey Orange Syrup: If desired, place 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until mixture boils and sugar dissolves completely. Add 1/4 cup honey. Heat another 2 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (I used Cointreau) and stir to combine. Pour slowly over the cake or brush on with a pastry brush until all the syrup is absorbed. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at least an hour to allow syrup to moisten the cake.