“She is going to produce a birthday cake – only a cake – but in her mind at this moment the cake is glossy and resplendent as any photograph in any magazine; it is better, even, than the photographs of cakes in magazines. She imagines making, out of the humblest materials, a cake with all the balance and authority of an urn or a house. The cake will speak of bounty and delight the way a good house speaks of comfort and safety. This, she thinks, is how artists or architects must feel (it’s an awfully grand comparison, she knows, maybe even a little foolish, but still), faced with canvas, with stone, with oil or wet cement. Wasn’t a book like Mrs. Dalloway once just empty paper and a pot of ink? It’s only a cake, she tells herself. But still. There are cakes and then there are cakes. At this moment, holding a bowl full of sifted flour in an orderly house under the California sky, she hopes to be as satisfied and as filled with anticipation as a writer putting down the first sentence, a builder beginning to draw the plans” (The Hours, Michael Cunningham, p. 76).
I read this somewhere in Panama and immediately dog-eared the page. I knew, I know, that feeling. The one of being a creator, knowing that with the simple ingredients laid out before you, you will construct a work of beauty. A work of power. Beautiful and powerful not for its physical being, but for the subtle, sometimes undetectable, feelings it evokes in its producer and in its consumers. A single slice will bring contentment and harmony. Comfort and pleasure. Peace. Joy.
It seemed like this cake brought all of those things to the party I toted it to. After all, Abby, looking at the place where her piece of cake had sat seconds before proclaimed, “That was a special moment.”
This cake was featured in a Bon Appetit article on René Redzepi, head chef of Copenhagen’s NOMA, which happened to recently be named the world’s best restaurant. That’s right. The. Best. Restaurant. In. The. World. &*%^! His wife, Nadine, is the creator of this cake though. Apparently great chefs marry people who can also cook, because this cake…Oh, this cake. It has a bold nutty, buttery flavor that shines through a subtle sweetness, a nice change from the normal über sweet dessert. The raw sugar sprinkled on at the end gives the cake a crunchy top layer, which compliments its dense, crumbly interior. The walnut-orange flavor combination was inspired by another Bon Appetit recipe and it is a match made in heaven. Good luck eating just one piece.
Walnut Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
from Bon Appetit (minus the frosting. that’s all me!)
This cake can be served without the frosting for breakfast or brunch, or with the frosting as a dessert. Whipped cream would be another good topping option. I like this recipe. My dad thinks it would make great French toast. To do so, the cake will need to be sliced in half width wise and soaked in eggs for quite some time. Nom nom.
For the Cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
6 tablespoons raw sugar, divided
7 cups walnut halves
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups almond flour or almond meal
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6 large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
For the Frosting:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 scant tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon orange zest
Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 13x9x2″ metal or glass baking dish; sprinkle bottom evenly with 3 Tbsp. raw sugar. Set aside.
Pulse walnuts in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Set 2 cups aside. Add all-purpose flour to processor and pulse until walnuts are very finely ground, 1–2 minutes. Add almond flour; pulse to blend. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, 2–3 minutes. Add eggs, cream, yogurt, and salt. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean (reserve bean for another use). Beat until well combined, 1–2 minutes. Add ground-walnut mixture and beat just to blend. Gently fold in chopped walnuts, being careful not to overmix. Pour batter into prepared dish; smooth top. Sprinkle with remaining 3 Tbsp. raw sugar.
Bake until cooked through and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 50–55 minutes. While the cake is baking, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a bowl with a hand-held mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter, and orange juice just until blended. Add the sugar and beat just until smooth; do not over beat. Using a spatula stir in the orange zest and set aside.
Once cake is done, remove from oven and cool in pan on a wire rack. To serve, either frost the cake in the pan or cut cake into squares, remove from pan, and let guests frost individually. Either way, frost immediately before serving. Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill. Cake is best served cold.