from one generation to the next
Busy work years meant no time for Book Club let alone reading for pleasure, but after I gave up paid employment it became a priority again. Around the same time I met a wonderful group of older single retired women at regular group fitness sessions at our local recreation centre. Our conversation often centred on books and film, exhibitions and theatre so our common interests led us to forming a book discussion group.
This is not a group of zipped up staid old maids. They are thinkers, feisty, opiniated and outspoken, interesting and interested woman who embrace life with gusto. We are all left leaning with a strong sense of social justice and are subject to political outrage. These are well travelled women who love the theatre, food, wine and a good belly laugh. I’m the baby of the group and these women are my role models for the years ahead.
Our December meeting and Christmas dinner this year was also an 80th birthday celebration and I volunteered to bake a birthday cake. The birthday girl is our pavlova queen so meringue cake was out of the question and it was too hot and humid for chocolate, so I resurrected this walnut cake recipe as a vehicle for the candied walnuts I was inspired to make, a bit back to front I know, but judging my the oohs and aahs, an inspired decision.
I set aside 12 perfect candied walnut halves for decoration then blitzed half the remaining batch into a crumb to press into the sides of ganache coated cake. Sparklers added birthday bling.
I love this cake and don’t know why the recipe has been shelved for so long. It’s dense and moist, solid enough that it handles easily, but light to eat. The cake cuts cleanly and tastes of walnuts with just a hint of cinnamon.
Happy birthday to my dear friend Jane, 80 years young!
30g dried breadcrumbs
30g brown rice flour
225g shelled walnuts
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
225g unsalted butter at room temperature
180g castor sugar
6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
3 tablespoons castor sugar extra
Preheat the oven to 150C fan forced.
Grease a deep sided, 20cm springform cake tin and line it with baking paper.
Blitz the walnuts breadcrumbs and rice flour together in the food processor to a very fine crumb.*
Cream the butter and sugar until white and fluffy, then beat in the egg yolks one at a time.
Stir the walnut meal into the butter.
Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks then whisk in the extra sugar to stabilise the egg whites.
Fold the egg whites into the walnut mixture 1/3 at a time.
Tip the cake batter into the tin, smooth the top.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 1-1 1/4 hours or until a skewer comes our clean when poked into the centre of the cake.
Cool for 10 minutes in the tin before releasing the sides.
Allow to cool completely before decorating.
* including the rice flour and breadcrumbs with the walnuts in the processor prevents the nuts from turning to a paste.
1/2 cup cream
125g dark chocolate couverture pellets
Bring the cream to the boil, remove from the heat then stir in the chocolate with a clean metal spoon.
Continue stirring gently until the chocolate has melted. the ganache should be smooth and glossy.
Spread the ganache over the top and sides of the cooled cake.
2 cups of shelled walnut halves
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Line a tray with baking paper to tip the finished nuts onto to cool.
In a saute pan melt the butter, sugar and lemon juice. Allow it to simmer until it starts to caramelize. It will only take a couple of minutes.
Add the walnuts, toss to coat in caramel and continue cooking until the caramel is well coloured. Stir in the cinnamon, then immediately tip the nuts into the middle of the tray and spread into a single layer while still hot.
You need to work quickly as even on a warm day I found the caramel hardened within a few minutes.
Use the walnuts whole to top cakes and brownies, chopped in a salad with radicchio, or as I did, processed to a crumb and used as a sweet crumb sprinkled on ice cream.
* this recipe makes double what is needed to decorate a 20cm cake, but making caramel in very small quantities is tricky because it burns easily.