Friday, November 13, 2020


My love for old-fashioned desserts is very well known by now. I truly find their simplicity inspiring, as they show what wonderful sweets can be prepared with a handful of humble ingredients, a few bowls, and a whisk. I especially enjoy old-fashioned cakes in colder weather, even more so towards the end of the year. They evoke fond memories of using a hand walnut mill, the smell of scalding milk and vanilla, the joy of watching a cake being put together.
The charm of this simple, yet incredibly wholesome cake lays in its thin layers and abundant walnut filling. It is filled while still warm, allowing the filling to be absorbed into some of the cake layers. A true walnut symphony.
Speaking of its thin layers, they are best baked separately, but they can be baked in four tins, and then levelled and split in half. However you decide to bake, my seasoned advice would be to divide the batter by weight between the tins, as that will ensure they bake evenly, and meld into the filling when assembled.
Serve this little beauty very well chilled, after at least a night in the refrigerator, with plenty of freshly brewed strong coffee, and good company.

For the cake layers
350 grams plain flour
50 grams cornflour
200 grams granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
15 grams baking powder
425 millilitres lukewarm water
100 millilitres vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
For the walnut filling
400 grams toasted walnuts, ground
200 grams granulated sugar
200 millilitres whole milk
250 grams unsalted butter, diced
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

Start by making the cake layers. Sift the flour and the cornflour into a large bowl, tip in the sugar, salt, and the baking powder, and whisk very well. Make a well in the centre and pour in the water, oil, and the vanilla, and whisk until combined. The batter will resemble pancake batter in consistency. Lightly butter eight small round cake pans (15 cm in diameter), and line their bottoms and sides with baking parchment. Divide the batter equally among them, and bake, in a preheated oven, at 200°C, for about 8-10 minutes. They will remain light in colour, but be springy when lightly touched. Of course, check with a toothpick, to make sure they are baked, but not dry. Let them cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, and then turn them out to a large wire rack to continue cooling.
When the cake layers are almost cool to the touch, start making the filling. Add the ground walnuts into a large bowl, add in the sugar, and mix really well. Pour the milk into a deep saucepan, preferably with a heavy bottom, and add in the diced butter. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat, and whisk constantly until all of the butter melts. Let the mixture just barely come to a boil, remove from the heat, and add in the vanilla. Whisk and pour all over the walnuts. Mix gently until all of the walnuts are combined with the milk, and then let the batter stand until it cools down. It will be runny when it is hot, but it will thicken up as it cools.
When the filling is lukewarm, start assembling the cake. Level the cake layers if needed, and place the first one on the cake platter. Place a cake ring around it, add a tall sheet of acetate, and tighten the ring so it stays in place. Divide the filling into seven parts by weight. Add the first part of the filling over the cake layer, level it gently, and place another cake layer on top. Continue stacking the cake in this fashion, until all of the layers and filling are used up. Let the cake stand at room temperature for about two more hours, so the cake layers nicely absorb a portion of the filling, and then place it in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. Serve in thin slices, with strong coffee. Yields 20 servings.