Walnut Cake, and how to make it with a two year old

Monday, August 30, 2010

I love cake, I love pie, I love tarts, ice cream, sorbet. I never really had a sweet tooth until I was pregnant with J, but I have always loved nut-based confections. Fruit tarts with almond fillings, mexican tea cakes, and my old stand by, walnut cake.

I keep hearing there is some division between cake lovers and pie lovers, but I’m bi-desert: I’ll take either, or both. Except a lot of pie is a it soggy, and I only really like fruit ones with fresh fruit, but a cream pie I can eat whenever. Maybe I’m really a cake person, after all- -or at least now I ma: I love them for their flexibility; once you get past the chemistry of leavening and rising, cakes are much more flexible than other baked treats are: less sugar here, more fruit there, it might be hit or miss at first but it’s workable.

So I decided to try and bake a cake with J, as our first foray into sweets-making in the kitchen. Actually, it was our second: he came in, once, when I was making cookies, ate a bunch of dough, and went to sleep 3 hours late after terrorizing both the cats and unrolling two rolls of toilet paper. So the recipe below is, naturally, one, that works well with less sugar, with honey instead, with stevia; is high in protein, gluten-free, and even has a carrot.
But you know, it’s still cake! And for his second birthday, I made J a version with honey, strawberries, and lots of candles.

“Happy Cake” (Walnut Cake)
This is adapted from an old Saveur Magazine recipe (I get all my best ideas from Saveur), and is apparently a pretty-traditional french desert. I’ve given variations I like, and how I include J in the making at the end.

8 oz shelled walnuts, plus 12 walnut halves
4 oz unsaslted butter
6 oz brown sugar
1 carrot
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease your baking dish, I use a 10 or 12 inch tart pan but you could use a 10 inch pie plate or 10 inch cake pan, just test the cake about 10 minutes early.
Grate the carrot, set aside
Separate the eggs and beat the whites until stiff
Grind the walnuts in a food proecessor until they are coarse-- like rough sand (don’t overprocess until mealy, whatever you do!).
Add the carrot, sugar, butter, and egg yolks, blending quickly after each addition.
Beat in 1/4 the egg whites, then fold the cake mixture into the egg white softly, slowly and carefully until just combined.
Decorate with reserved walnut halves.
Pour batter into baking dish.
Bake for 45 minutes or until tester is clean.

You could put 6-8 skinned plum/apricot/nectarine halves, halved side down on top of he cake right before it goes in, instead of the reserved walnut halves.
Substitute 1/2 c honey for the sugar and 1 tbs of butter
Substitute stevia for brown sugar, 1 for 1

J tried to grate the carrot but he’s really too little for a box grater, yet. However, I did put all the ingredients into separate bowls, and he happily fed them into the food processor, as usual.Don’t let the kids combine the egg whites, it’s probably too delicate until they are teenagers, even.

For J’s birthday, I made the cake with honey, and slowcooked some frozen strawberries in a little homemade jam, basically making a strawberry puree. About 5- 10 minutes before the cake was ready, I removed it from the oven, preheated the broiler, spread the topping on the cake, and returned the cake to the broiler for 5 minutes.

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