Sunday, October 14, 2018

Honey & Walnut Cake (with a Shiny Chocolate Glaze)

I have had my eye on the Honey Walnut Cake in Maria Helm Sinskey’s The Vineyard Kitchen ever since I added her book to my cookbook library…which is to say, for a long time.  Last week I finally got around to making it.  I wanted to include it in the next installment of a series of classes I have been teaching with recipes (and variations of recipes) from cookbooks that are organized around the seasons. 

I admit that I was disappointed in the result.  In fairness, I think that my reaction had more to do with the cake I had been imagining all of this time rather than any flaw in the recipe.  The cake I produced from her recipe was firm and fine grained (rather pound cake-like, in fact) and lightly sweet.  I think I expected something softer (honey cakes tend to be soft)…and sweeter.   So rather than adjust my expectations, I decided to try and come up with the cake I wanted….one that kept Sinskey’s delicious flavors (honey and toasted walnut…with just a touch of orange), but had the texture and sweetness that I had imagined.

As I began to look around, I was surprised to discover that there weren’t a lot of honey cakes made with nut flour with which to compare her recipe.  I finally ran across a plain honey cake at King Arthur.  As I compared the recipes it seemed to me that if I substituted walnut flour for the whole wheat flour in the King Arthur recipe that I might have a cake that, with the addition of a little vanilla and orange zest, would actually be the cake I wanted—loftier from the addition of an egg…and softer and sweeter because it was sweetened with all honey (and quite a bit more of it at that).  I’m happy to report it worked beautifully. 

Neither cake in its original form is frosted.  The King Arthur cake includes a scattering of almonds…and Sinskey decorates her cake with a few honey glazed walnuts.   There is of course nothing wrong with this.  I think that if you make this cake and serve it plainly—with maybe a light sifting of powdered sugar—that you will have a delicious little snack cake.  But from the beginning, I have thought that this cake was crying out for some chocolate.

 Not only does the chocolate taste delicious with the honey and walnut flavors of the cake, but the shiny chocolate and honey glaze I made looks fantastic as a background for Sinskey’s honey glazed walnuts.  The cake still makes a fine afternoon snack…with a cup of tea…   But with the chocolate glaze it becomes elegant enough for a dinner party or other special autumn occasion.  And since honey cakes have excellent keeping qualities (staying moist and delicious for several days), you can make this cake at least a day ahead…leaving you free to work on other things the day of your party.  Basically it’s a perfect autumn and holiday dessert….which is sort of what I had in mind all along…. 
Honey & Walnut Cake

142g (1 1/2 c.) walnuts
112g (1 c.) all purpose flour 
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
170g (12 T.) unsalted butter, at room temperature (very soft)
Zest of 1 orange
340g (1 c.) honey
4 large eggs (at room temperature)—beaten until smooth
60g (1/4 c.) yogurt
1 t. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Spread the walnuts on a small baking sheet and toast until golden and fragrant—about 8 minutes.  Remove the nuts from the oven and let cool.  Using a rotary nut grinder, grind the walnuts to a flour.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.  Lightly butter a 9-inch round cake pan (2 inches deep). Line the pan with a round of parchment.  Butter the parchment.  Flour the pan, tapping out the excess. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together the walnut and all purpose flours, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Place the butter and orange zest in the bowl of an electric mixer.  With the machine running, add the honey.  When the honey is mostly incorporated, add the eggs in the same manner. Scrape down the sides and mix briefly until the mixture is mostly smooth (there may still be flecks of butter visible…this is OK.)  

Fold in the reserved flour mixture.  Stir in the yogurt and vanilla.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to be sure everything is evenly moistened.  After scraping, mix again just until you have a smooth, medium-thick batter.  Over mixing will result in a dense, slightly greasy, cake. 

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the edge of the cake pulls back from the edge of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  The cake will also be springy to the touch.  Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before removing from the pan.  Cool the cake right side up on a wire rack.  The cake may be served plainly (with a dusting of powdered sugar), or with a chocolate glaze. 

Serves 12. 

(Recipe adapted from King Arthur and The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey)

Chocolate Honey Glaze (from Cocolat): Place 3 oz. of chopped bittersweet chocolate in a microwave safe bowl along with 2 oz. of unsalted butter (cut into pieces) and 1 1/2 T. (32g) of honey. Microwave on medium (50% power) until almost melted. Stir gently until completely smooth. Cool until the glaze mounds briefly before disappearing when dropped from a spoon. Place the cake on a wire rack set over a parchment lined sheet pan.  Pour the glaze directly over the center of the cake and using an offset spatula, spread the glaze out to the edges allowing it to drip naturally down the sides.  When the glaze is mostly set, garnish with honey glazed walnuts, if desired.

Honey-Glazed Walnuts:  Choose 12 attractive, walnut halves.  Toast in a 350° oven until golden and fragrant (5 to 8 minutes).  Remove from the oven and while still warm, place in a bowl and drizzle with 1/2 to 1 T. of honey.  Stir until well coated.  Transfer to a rack.  Garnish the edge of the cake with the glazed walnut halves.

Printable Version


John F. MacMichael said...

This recipe looks great. It sounds delicious and I love the idea that you could make it a day ahead of time for a special occasion. I know from sad experience that being too ambitious with cooking plans for an occasion can result in great food, appreciative guests and a host too exhausted to enjoy either.

A few questions on details:

1) The yogurt...I presume this would be plain, full fat?

2) "Using a rotary nut grinder..." I am not familiar with this piece of gear. Could I use a blender? Spice grinder? Coffee grinder?

3) Is that whipped cream beside the slice of cake in the pictures? By the way, I love the detail of the last picture showing the slice with the first bite taken out of it.

Paige said...

Hi John, I don't know if my comments will be of much help at this point (although, since it's fall again...and this cake will be in season, maybe this comment will remind you to give it a try if you haven't already!). I apologize that I didn't respond at the time. Blogger quit notifying me of comments awaiting moderation over a year ago. I just recently discovered a huge backlog of comments and am trying to respond now.

So, in response:

1) Yes, the yogurt is plain (unsweetened) full fat. I make my own (have written two posts about it if it interests you), but commercial plain full fat is fine.

2) A rotary nut grinder is a pretty specific piece of equipment. It can be something that stands up on the counter...or a simple hand held item. There is a small hopper where you feed in the nuts and then a hand crank attached to a drum that finely chops/grates the nuts. If you Google "rotary nut grinder" you will see lots of models. The most similar piece of kitchen equipment is a hard cheese grater (the kind the server brings to your table and asks "would you like fresh grated Parmesan with that?"). In fact, I use mine (made by microplane) for both nuts and cheese. I wouldn't recommend using the blender or food processor. Neither of these will give you a uniform grind...and both will produce an oily mixture (and worse case scenario, nut butter). The rotary nut grinder with the finest blade will produce a fluffy, flour-like product. I haven't looked into it, but you might be able to purchase walnut flour. So many people are using nut flours as a way to replace wheat flour that they are becoming widely available. I have seen almond, hazelnut and pistachio available on line and in stores.

3) Yes--that is indeed whipped cream. My all purpose cake accompaniment. I add 2 T. of sugar and 1/2 t. of vanilla to a cup of whipping cream and whisk until I have soft peaks.

I'm glad you enjoyed the post (and pictures). Again, I apologize for my tardy response.