When a birthday calls for coffee and walnut cake …
My husband’s birthday is this month and I surprised him by making his favorite cake – a coffee and walnut cake. I first tried a recipe for this time last year and this year, I went back to it. If it’s not broken, why fix it, right?
Nigella Lawson’s recipe (from her “Nigella Kitchen” cookbook) proved again to be such a winning, no-nonsense recipe that I vowed to make it my go-to cake (which is exactly what I said last year). My husband adored it. My kids licked their plates clean and begged for more. And really – it is the easiest recipe. The problem, I fear, is that “coffee and walnut cake” still conjures up some mental images of slaving in the kitchen, crushing walnuts with my bear hands, agonizing over brewed espresso, and so forth and so on, that I’m actually immobilized when I think of making it, even when I rationally know it was easy enough to do the last time around.
I will let this blog post be a little pep talk to my future self. Self, make this cake again! It tastes amazing and is really shockingly fool-proof! Oh yes, and as a general buttercream frosting phobe, I must add that the espresso-ed up buttercream frosting is ridiculously delicious and would make anyone a believer.
Here’s the recipe again!
COFFEE AND WALNUT LAYER CAKE
For the sponge
1/2 cup walnuts (pieces)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter (soft (plus some for greasing))
1 1/3 cups plain flour
4 teaspoon(s) instant espresso powder
2.5 teaspoon(s) baking powder
½ teaspoon(s) baking soda
4 medium egg(s)
2 tablespoon(s) milk
For the buttercream frosting
3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (softened)
2.5 teaspoon(s) instant espresso powder, dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water
approximately 10 walnut halves
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the 2 8-inch round cake pans and line the base of each with parchment paper.
Put the walnut pieces and sugar into a food processor and blitz to a fine nutty powder.
Add the 2 sticks of butter, flour, 4 teaspoons espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda and eggs and process to a smooth batter.
Add the milk, pouring it down the funnel with the motor still running, or just pulsing, to loosen the cake mixture: it should be a soft, dropping consistency, so add more milk if you need to. (If you are making this by hand, bash the nuts to a rubbly powder with a rolling pin and mix with the dry ingredients; then cream the butter and sugar together, and beat in some dry ingredients and eggs alternately and, finally, the milk.)
Divide the mixture between the 2 cake pans and bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the sponge has risen and feels springy to the touch.
Cool the cakes in their tins on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, before turning them out onto the rack and peeling off the parchment paper.
When the sponges are cool, you can make the buttercream.
To make the frosting:
Pulse the powdered sugar in the food processor until it is lump free, then add the butter and process to make a smooth icing.
Dissolve the instant espresso powder in 1 tablespoon boiling water and add it while still hot to the processor, pulsing to blend into the buttercream.
If you are doing this by hand, sieve the icing sugar and beat it into the butter with a wooden spoon. Then beat in the hot coffee liquid.
Place 1 sponge upside down on your cake stand or serving plate.
Spread with about half the icing; then place on it the second sponge, right side up (i.e. so the 2 flat sides of the sponges meet in the middle) and cover the top with the remaining icing in a ramshackle swirly pattern.
This cake is all about old-fashioned, rustic charm, so don’t worry unduly: however the frosting goes on is fine. similarly, don’t fret about some buttercream oozing out around the middle: that’s what makes it look so inviting.
Gently press the walnut halves into the top of the icing all around the edge of the circle about 1/2 inch apart.
Cuts into 8 generous slices.