In my calculus, a rustic cake has a short list of ingredients, an interesting texture, and most importantly is adorned very plainly-- a straightforward glaze, scoop of ice cream or whipped cream, a smatter of nuts or seasonal fruit is all it takes. This Flourless Walnut Cake and its coffee or spice versions deliver on a promise of simplicity.
What a cake like this misses in complexity is made up with a certain honesty. It's like the fresh rosy-cheeked girl in a calico dress that smells of clothesline sunshine.
Or, our flourless walnut cake is like filtering your way through a crowded party, and meeting a gentle-souled person standing in the corner with whom to while the evening away.
Multi-tiered, colorful swooped, swirled, and filagree-frosted cakes sometimes disappoint on the part that really matters-- flavor. With flourless walnut cake or its coffee or spice versions, what you see is what you get. The beauty is natural, not forced.
Making the Flourless Walnut Cake
Starting with room temperature eggs, like with most baking, is imperative to the success of this recipe. Sugar simply cannot dissolve into cold yolks. Cold whites don't whip to their lofty heights. Here you spend a good deal of time building structure by dissolving sugar into yolks and stiffening the whites, so give yourself a guaranteed win by setting your eggs out in advance. (When I forget, I help the eggs warm up by placing them on a bowl of lukewarm water, changing it for more when it goes cold. Never try this with hot water or you make crack open a semi-cooked egg!)
Traditional recipes for this type of cake ask you to whip all of the whites into firm peaks at once. Here, I have you whip them to medium peaks at first, then add only a third of them to the yolk/sugar/nut mixture to lighten the batter. Then, you'll go back and whip the remaining two-thirds of the whites into firm stand-up-at-attention peaks before gently folding them into the batter. I have found this greatly increases the structure of the cake, resulting in a taller cake with less shrinkage when it comes out of the oven. Even though our dear little flourless walnut cakes are humble, they still like to make a good first impression.
If you chose, top either version with a pile of candied walnut halves, made the same way Sarah at Sustainable Cooks makes her pecans. The only difference is that I add 1 tablespoon water to the skillet along with the sugar. Make extra! Candied walnuts are great in salads or on a cheese platter, too.
Flourless Walnut cake is tender and delicious just as written, but the addition of coffee or baking spices takes it next level-- One recipe with three variations-- plain, Coffee, or Spice-- to suit your mood. Three primary ingredients, a few simple steps, and you'll have beautiful dessert cakes all winter.
2tablespoonsfinely ground coffee beans, plus 1 teaspoon for optional glaze
Coffee Glaze, Optional
1teaspoonfinely ground coffee beans
5tablespoonswarm or hot strong brewed coffee
½teaspoonpure vanilla extract
Flourless Walnut Cake
Preheat oven to 350°. Generously butter and flour (or use very finely ground walnuts) a 9-inch springform pan. Wrap the bottom of the pan with foil to catch any butter that melts out in the oven.
In a food processor, finely grind the walnuts. This will likely take only 8 -10 pulses. Stop just as they begin to clump. (Any further and you'll make walnut butter, not quite what we are after). Set the ground walnuts aside.
Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment. Beat the yolks with the sugar and salt 6-8 minutes until the mixture is fluffy and pale yellow. (You'll be glad you let your eggs come to room temperature for this-- the sugar more readily dissolves in eggs that are not cold.)
If you are making a plain flourless walnut cake, move on to step five. If you are making either a walnut-spice cake or a coffee flavored cake, add the spice mix or the finely ground coffee beans now and mix in thoroughly.
Remove the mixing bowl from the stand mixer and with a silicone or rubber spatula, fold the ground walnuts into the yolk mixture.
In a separate clean bowl free of any oils or grease, whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, and vanilla to medium peaks. (The cream of tartar helps stabilize the whipped egg whites.) Gently fold about a third of the egg whites into the walnut mixture. Then, whip the remaining egg whites once again until they just reach firm peaks. Fold them gently into the walnut mixture in two batches, folding until no more white streaks remain.
Place the cake batter into the prepared pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the cake is puffed, set (not jiggly) in the middle, and a cake tester (I use a bamboo skewer for this) inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan about 20 minutes before removing the springform ring. The cake will have sunk in the center and formed charming cracks and crags, perfectly normal for this rustic meringue-style cake.
Decorate with seasonal fruits, a dusting a powdered sugar, or the coffee glaze below. Seve with whipped cream.
Place the sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Add the vanilla and coffee, tablespoon at a time, and whisk until a glaze forms. It should cling to the whisk and drip off in thick long ribbons. Adjust by adding more powdered sugar or water to make it thicker or thinner. Drizzle the glaze from the whisk around the edges of the cake, allowing some to flow toward the center of the cake and some to drip off the edges. Allow the glaze to set for an hour before covering or serving.
To make the Coffee Glaze a Spice Glaze, replace the ground coffee with one teaspoon of the same spice blend you use in the cake, and replace the brewed coffee with warm or hot water.Garnish the spice cake with fresh fig halves, lightly roasted (6 minutes at 350, just to soften) plum prunes, tiny grape clusters, and/or unsprayed organic food-safe flowers or flower petals.
You’re in the right place! I’m Pam Spettel, home cooking expert and guide, and I’m here to show you how to break up with cooking and hospitality anxiety, learn how to use recipes as guides rather than strict rules, and let your cooking intuition and confidence soar.
Superpower: Dreaming up recipes that work, serving them to my friends and family, and writing little stories about how cooking them well is the same as loving well.
Inspiration: Ingredients! The fresh, colorful, fragrant, local, seasonal ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest are my creative medium.
Heroes: Local food and wine producers– the people who keep me, my family, and our community nourished and happy.