Part of the joy in visiting galleries and museums in the United Kingdom (I know, a broad and sweeping generalization) is the lunch or tea break. After a morning of culture and a feast for the eyes, it is time to relax the mind and physically recharge before heading out for a second round. In my experience, the food or caterer at these places provides delicious options. Both nutritious and locally made meals as well is mouth-watering desserts are on offer. This is a far cry from the cafeteria experience at similarly sized and prestigious North American galleries and museums (if you don’t believe me, just head over to the cafeteria at the Metropolitan Museum. On second thought, skip that and leave the museum for one of the fantastic options nearby like Two Little Red Hens or Dean & Deluca).
Macarons sit beside rich chocolate confections. Scones with jam and are always an option. Another staple is the humble coffee walnut cake. A rustic looking thing that doesn’t attract attention compared to the others under the glass. A cake that I didn’t so much as glance at until a recent trip to Edinburgh (is 2016 recent? It feels like yesterday to me). I enjoyed my first, gloriously delicious slice of walnut cake at Contini: The Scottish Café and Restaurant in the Scottish National Gallery. The desserts are carefully displayed under glass domes to the far end of the naturally lit restaurant. With its thick icing, moist crumb and obvious pieces of walnuts, I didn’t have to think twice. It was delicious, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. As it is not common to have this cake on Canadian menus, I have adapted a traditional British recipe for the audience here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Coffee Walnut Cake
Makes: 8 generous slices (20 cm/8 inch cake)
Time: Prep (30 minutes) + Baking time (45 minutes) + Cooling time (inactive about 2 hours) + Decorating (10 minutes)
2 cups (180 g) whole walnuts
¾ cup plus 2 tbsp (198 g) unsalted butter, softened plus more for greasing
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
2-3 tbsp instant coffee powder, dissolved in 2 tbsp water
1 ½ cups + 1 tbsp (198 g) all-purpose flour
2 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp fine grained sea salt
250 g (1 package) regular cream cheese, room temperature
¼ cup (50 g) brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
Icing sugar for dusting
Springform pan 20 cm/ 8 inches
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (178°C). Line the bottom of the springform pan with parchment paper. Grease the bottom and the sides of the pan.
2. Spread the walnuts on a baking tray and toast until golden, about 7 minutes. Allow to cool. Divide in half (1 cup), roughly chop one half and save the other half for the topping.
3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar using a hand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in the coffee. Fold in the flour and chopped walnuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan (batter will be thick) and smooth the top using the back of a spoon. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. The cake will feel springy to the touch.
4. Remove the cake from the oven. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife along the edge of the pan to loosen the cake and then release the sides of the springform pan. Allow the cake to fully cool (about 2 hours) before icing.
5. Beat the cream cheese and brown sugar in a medium bowl until no lumps appear. Mix in the vanilla. Spread the icing on the top of the cake then, cover with the reserved walnuts (you may wish to break the walnuts up in your hands as I have done). Dust with icing sugar. While it is best enjoyed the day that it is made, the cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Enjoy this cake in the afternoon with… a cup of tea!
*This provides enough icing to cover just the top of the cake. For a celebration or party cake, I recommend doubling the icing recipe. Cut the cake in half, horizontally and apply frosting to the first layer. Put the second cake layer on and cover the rest with icing and then the walnuts and icing sugar.
Adapted from: Peyton and Bryne’s British Baking
By the way, April is National Poetry Month. Join the movement with Poem in Your Pocket Day!