from "Living Within", November 2015
For those of you who may have a walnut tree in the garden, you will already know that walnut season has been taking place since the end of September. Unmistakeable in the litter of blackening shells on the lawn (if you fail to harvest your walnuts from the tree that is) and also, if you have ever tried to wrestle them from their fleshy green outer coatings with your bare hands, from the almost indelible stains that doing so will leave on your finger tips. For the rest, they are now easily available in markets and supermarkets, in both shelled and unshelled form, ready for laying down for the winter.
Amongst all the nuts in the nut kingdom, walnuts are often considered sovereign; full of all kinds of “superfood” goodness, distinctive in taste with their slightly bitter after notes, and rather magnificent in looks with their brain-like form (which also adds to the challenge of cracking them in trying to keep the kernels whole!). Make sure you buy your walnuts from somewhere you trust to have them fresh and well looked after - carelessly handled or stored they can turn unpleasantly rancid very quickly.
To celebrate the season, I have baked a walnut cake - a dense, moist one, with a bit of beta carotene added to the superfood mix in the form of a grated carrot and a little orange zest. This cake will hold its own against a strong cup of coffee, or you may prefer a glass of something to compliment the complexity of the walnuts and their accompanying sweeteners - a dessert wine would be just perfect.
Ingredients: 110g unsalted butter (at room temperature); 225g caster sugar; zest of an orange; 5 eggs; 280g shelled walnuts, ground to a coarse meal in a food processor (or chopped with a sharp knife), plus a few extra whole ones to decorate the top (optional); 1 medium carrot (peeled and finely grated); 80g plain flour.
Pre-heat an oven to 160ºC; butter and base-line a 25cm cake tin.
Method: Rub the orange zest into the sugar, then cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time (if you add them all at once, the mixture will curdle). Fold the ground walnuts and the grated carrots into the batter, and, finally, fold in the flour.
Pour all of the mixture into the prepared cake tin, decorate with the whole nuts (if you have reserved any for that purpose), and bake the cake in the preheated oven for between 35 and 40 minutes - until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean of mixture.
Leave the cake to cool on a rack in its tin, but un-mould it while the cake is still warm. You can eat it while it still retains some heat, although I prefer it at room temperature, and sprinkle with some fine sugar or icing sugar before you serve it if you want to add a final flourish.