All good things must come to an end…
But such a sweet end!  Our Best Recipes of 2014 series concludes with an unassuming-looking, crumbly, unadorned cake of a modest chestnut hue.  Don’t be fooled by appearances.

The book:  Bitter, by Jennifer McLagan (10 Speed Press, $29.99)

The recipe:  Walnut cake

Why I tried itIt was just one of those synesthetic moments you get with cookbooks: I saw the word “bitter” (referring, in this case, to the walnuts). I saw the word “orange”.  I saw the faintly blue gleam of the steel dessert plates in the photograph, which I found devastatingly chic.  In my mouth, I tasted butter.  Out came the Post-Its!

Why I loved it:  Oranges and walnuts! a match made in heaven.  That plus a faintly chewy, profoundly buttery crumb. It was like the darker and more glamorous cousin of a financier.   Eat it forkful by dense and tender forkful with completely unsweetened whipped cream or crème fraîche.  Sip a little coffee, and wish – not for the the first time – that you had a nice big 4-chambered stomach, like a cow’s, instead of the one you’ve got.

Estimated preparation time: About 1 1/2 hours: A leisurely 40 minutes to toast and grind the nuts, prepare the yolk/butter mix, prepare the whites, and fold them together.  Another 50 minutes for the baking.


Walnut Cake

5 1⁄2 ounces walnut halves
2 slices white bread
2⁄3 cup / 5¼ ounces unsalted butter, diced
2⁄3 cup / 4 1⁄2 ounces sugar
4 eggs, separated
¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
A pinch of fine sea salt
1 Seville or regular orange
A pinch of cream of tartar
Cocoa powder

1.  Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C. Butter a 9-inch / 23-cm springform cake pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.

2.  Spread the walnuts and bread slices on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 10 minutes or until the bread is dry and the nuts are lightly toasted. Let cool slightly. Lower the oven temperature to 325°F / 160°C.

3.  Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Set 3 tablespoons of the sugar aside and add the remaining sugar to the butter. Cream the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy. Meanwhile, place the walnuts and toasted bread in a food processor and pulse until finely ground.

4.  Add the egg yolks, one at a time, to the creamed butter and sugar, beating well after each addition. Stir in the ground walnut and bread mixture, then add the cardamom and salt. Finely grate the zest from the orange and add to the mixture; set the orange aside for another use.

5.  In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy; add the cream of tartar, and continue to whisk until white. Add the reserved 3 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking until the whites are glossy and resemble whipped cream. Add a large spoonful of the egg whites to the walnut batter and stir to lighten. Tip the batter onto the egg whites and fold lightly until mixed.

6.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 50 minutes or until dark golden and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out dry.  Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake and unmold onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely, then dust with cocoa powder.

Reprinted from Bitter by Jennifer McLagan. Copyright (c) 2014. Published by 10 Speed Press