Although it’s barely the beginning of March, we have been enjoying plenty of gloriously golden sunshine & blue skies, lifting everyone’s spirits. Dainty flowers are flourishing in hedgerows & borders, a vast array of vibrant colours emerging & encouraging us to believe Spring has arrived. It’s like we’ve just opened a window after Winter, a breathe of beautiful freshness after the cold snap. This time of year is the most exciting for me, when the sleepy seeds & bulbs are stirring in the ground, springing from the soil & bringing a new season of flowers, vegetables & recipes! There are always lovely smiling faces at my local shops too & although I only popped in for eggs, I always end up with a basket full of goodies (including a potted Oregano to add to my ever increasing hoard of herbs on the patio, but not the walnuts that I only remembered as I pulled into the driveway). Whilst waiting at the checkout, I got chatting with one of our Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Fire Fighters (hi Anna!). It never ceases to amaze me how our Fire Fighters head off into potentially highly dangerous situations (obviously they have lots of training & nerves of steel), so huge thanks & appreciation for their service!
Today would have been my Grandma’s birthday, Mamma as she was fondly known to us & she was one of the best bakers I know. Her velvety rich chocolate cake was rather famous in our family & I would love sitting at the huge table in her kitchen, watching her carefully create this magical masterpiece. Saturday afternoons would involve watching wrestling with Grandad (it was Giant Haystacks & Big Daddy in those days), then curling up on the sofa with Mamma & a slice of cake while we watched Calamity Jane or another old Hollywood classic. Cake should invoke happy memories, both to the baker & the eater – birthdays, weddings, anniversaries & afternoons with your favourite people are all accompanied by a good cake (or they should be). It’s a fabulous way to show someone how much you care & baking a cake for someone is personal, unique & one of the easiest ways to make them smile.
Perfect for Springtime afternoons, my lusciously light & lovely Coffee & Walnut cake is one of my Husband’s favourites & something I’ve been making for many years. When I worked in an office, I would bake cakes for client meetings & once made this for an important new client – I shelled the walnuts myself & a piece accidentally got in the cake, which obviously ended up in her slice! This recipe began as a few scribbles in the back of a notebook one afternoon, when I decided to bake & discovered a lack of sugar, so used golden syrup instead (one of my best experiments!). Before we get started, I just want to address the type of sugar for this particular recipe. Because golden caster sugar is not always easy to find, I tend to use light golden Demerara or Vanilla sugar (just put regular sugar in a jar with a snapped vanilla pod overnight). It blends perfectly without any grittiness, but if you’re concerned just chuck it into a coffee grinder to make it fine. Ready to get baking? Hands washed & aprons on, here we go!
What you need:
6oz Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
6oz Self-Raising Flour
(plus a little extra Butter & Flour for prepping your cake tins)
4oz Sugar (I use either Demerara or Vanilla Sugar as mentioned)
2oz Golden Syrup
3 large Eggs
4oz Walnut pieces (plus 12 walnut halves for decorating the top)
4 tablespoons Espresso Coffee (leftover from the morning’s fresh pot or just strong coffee mixed in cold water)
For the buttercream:
10oz Icing Sugar
5oz Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
2 teaspoons Espresso Coffee (saved from the mixture above)
What to do:
Pre-heat the oven to 180*C & put the shelf in the centre of the oven.
Prepare your cake tins – you will need two 7 inch cake tins for this cake. Grease with a little butter all around the inside (you can use the butter wrapper or just smudge around with your fingers). Chuck in a spoonful of flour & shake it all around, until all the butter is covered. Tip out the excess.
Cut two circles of greaseproof paper out to fit the bottom of your tins & pop one in each. Although the butter & flour will make your tins non-stick, this will ensure your cake comes out clean too.
Put the softened butter into a large mixing bowl, pour in the golden syrup & tip the sugar on top. Using an electric whisk (or a wooden spoon if you like), whip up the butter, syrup & sugar until light, smooth & a pale cream colour.
Crack in one egg at a time & whisk thoroughly into the mixture (it will become looser, so don’t panic).
Once all your eggs are combined, sift in the flour & then fold into the mixture. Folding is just stirring in a figure of eight style around the bowl, until your dry ingredients are mixed into the wet.
Stir a little of the coffee into the cake mixture gently, just a spoonful at a time & taste it (it should be delicately coffee flavoured, not “smack you round the face” cake!).
Add the walnut pieces & stir in gently to combine.
Divide the mixture equally between the two cake tins, spreading out to the edges with a spatula (just to even out the mixture).
Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 25 minutes, until the centre has risen & turned a gorgeous golden brown on top.
To test if your cake is ready, poke a stick of spaghetti into the centre & if it comes out clean, your cake is done! Pop your tins onto a cake rack to cool for a minute.
Slide a pallet knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the tin, then tip it onto your (oven gloved) hand, peel off the greaseproof paper from the base (pull it back onto itself, not straight up or you’ll break your cake) & place the cake carefully onto the cooling rack, bottom side down. Repeat with the other one & leave to go completely cold.
Now to make the filling! I have a certain method for making buttercream, because I really don’t like using an electric whisk & being showered in sugar! This is the way I do it & it’s really easy, but your arms might ache after (it’s all worth it in the end!).
Tip the butter into a large mixing bowl & give it a good beating with a wooden spoon or spatula, just to make it smooth.
Add all the sugar & using your spatula, press it into the creamed butter, using the sides of the bowl as you do.
Continue until all the sugar & butter are blended into a thick, creamy mixture. Add a little coffee, mix in & taste (again, it should be delicately flavoured). If it becomes too loose, add another tablespoon of icing sugar & blend again. It needs to be stiff enough to pipe onto the cake.
Pop your buttercream into a piping bag, either with a nozzle or your choice or without (I’ve used a plastic bag with a corner snipped off when I’ve not had a piping bag to hand).
Once the cake is cold, it will be easier to decorate & less likely to break up (if the weather is hot, give it 10 mins in the fridge after the cake has gone cold & this will give you a much better base to work on).
Place your bottom layer of cake onto a serving plate & pipe around the edge of the cake – I pipe a pretty pattern around the edge & then fill in the centre bit by just piping long swirls tapering off in the middle.
Carefully place the top layer of cake onto the buttercream, pressing gently down & making sure it’s even all the way around.
Pipe a small swirl of buttercream in the centre of the cake & pop a walnut half on top, pressing gently.
Pipe further swirls around the cake at equal spaces, dotting with the walnut halves as above. If you do have any leftover buttercream, don’t throw it away – pipe little swirls or flowers onto a strip of greaseproof paper & freeze for future bakes. Next time you have a cake emergency (yes they do exist), you have ready-made decorations. Sometimes, I like to dust all over with a spoonful of icing sugar (put a teaspoonful in a tea strainer & shake it over your cake like a dredging of sugary snow).
Leave to set for ……. as if I’d make you wait! Get slicing & sharing your beautiful baking! If you do have any leftovers, wrap in cling film & freeze for an afternoon treat. Whether you’re celebrating or just fancy a slice of sweetness, why not “Espresso yourself” & whip up my Coffee & Walnut cake to share! Stay hungry! A 😉 x