The book:  Gloriously Gluten-Free, by Susannah Booth (Hamlyn Books, $29.99)

The recipe:  Coffee & walnut cake

Why I tried itApparently, last year –  I didn’t realize this until I had already made up this year’s Best Recipe list – I also featured a walnut cake.  (It seems walnut cake is yet one more thing I can’t resist.)  I didn’t go hunting for walnut cake when testing a brace of gluten-free books this year, yet there it was.  As soon as I saw this was a coffee-flavored walnut cake, as opposed to a walnut coffee cake, I was lost.  As Superman before Kryptonite, I am powerless before the flavor of coffee, although alas I cannot take much caffeine.

Why I loved it:  This was not a straightforward test. Gloriously Gluten-Free is a buy-in, presumably converted from metric, and something is a bit off about the water measurements for dissolving the confectioner’s sugar. I’ve tried to update the measurements for both buttercream and icing, but do use your judgement. Anyway, despite a bit of hair-pulling and concern about the crumb (with no gluten, it’s a fall-apart interior, which will be divine on the tongue if you can keep it together till serving time), this turned into a tender, coffee-scented, fantastically alluring confection. It was, in fact, my daughter’s favorite dessert of the year. And this is a house where desserts happen with clocklike regularity.  I warn you, it’s not pretty.  But given it is unlikely to survive more than 10 minutes after the first bite, that hardly seems to matter.

Estimated preparation time:  About an hour, as long as you don’t run into issues with the confectioner’s sugar-based components.

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Bruta, ma buona. I decided that adding the decorative walnut halves would only make it look sadder.

Coffee & Walnut Cake
I’m sorry to say that this cake is rather hideously unphotogenic. But I urge you to try it anyway, even if you are the kind of old-school baker who ordinarily shies away from anything labeled “gluten-free”. It may well convert you to the cause, at least in this one instance. I used espresso powder, by the way, not having any instant coffee on hand.

About 10 slices
2 tablespoons sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing
1 1/2 cups walnut pieces, plus walnut halves to decorate
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant coffee
3 teaspoons boiling water
2 teaspoons baking power

Buttercream
1 teaspoon instant coffee
2 teaspoons boiling water
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Icing
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee
2 tablespoons boiling water
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 340 degrees. Lightly oil a 9 inch loaf pan with sunflower oil.

Place 1 cup of the walnut pieces and the rice flour in a food processor and process until the mixture is the texture of coffee grinds. Add the brown sugar, milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. Stir together the instant coffee and the measurement of boiling water in a small cup until the coffee dissolves. Pour into the food processor and blend for 1 minute until the mixture is thick and creamy. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Add the baking powder to the cake batter and blend for a couple of seconds. Fold in the remaining walnut pieces, then pour into the prepared loaf pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake for 30 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Let cool in the pan.

To make the buttercream filling, mix together the coffee and the measurement of boiling water in a large bowl, then stir in the confectioners’ sugar. Add the butter and beat until well combined.

Cut the cooled cake in half horizontally using a sharp knife (a bread knife works well). Evenly spread the base with the buttercream, then sandwich together with the top.

To make the icing, mix together the coffee and the measurement of boiling water in a bowl until completely dissolved (or you’ll get dark flecks in your icing.) Stir in the confectioners’ sugar to form a thick mixture. Spread across the top of the cake using a palette knife, then decorate with the walnut halves. Chill for 1 hour before serving.

From Gloriously Gluten Free by Susannah Booth, Hamlyn 2015