I’m always on the look-out for athlete friendly baked goods, typically ones with low fat content, gluten-free, dairy free or even vegan to add to my repertoire. Before being introduced, these goodies have to be eaten and approved by my crack team of cake tasters.
On a recent trip to Dubai, I bought a cookery book written by the wife of the bloke that owns Noma, in Copenhagen. The much-lauded restaurant has recently re-opened after a hiatus of global guest appearances and pop-ups but was previously voted best restaurant in the world no less than four times!
“Could there be anyone worse to cook for?” I thought as I dived into the book, relieved to discover that neither foraging nor ants were required. Instead, it’s a bunch of scandi-style crowd pleasers. Now I retain warm memories of Danish cooking having spent a number of years in my late teens working at the (now long-gone) Danish Food Centre in Birmingham as both a waitress and trainee chef.
I was particularly taken with a recipe in the book for Walnut Squares which is husband René’s favourite dessert – no pressure then. The recipe isn’t particularly sweet, has little flour and is largely composed of nuts, specifically walnuts. It’s not an inexpensive cake to make but the walnuts render it moist and dense – a bit like a brownie – and give it great texture. It’s rich, filling, very moreish and, allegedly, keeps well.
Ingredients (enough for 24 hungry cyclists)
- 800g (28oz) walnuts
- 105g (4oz) plain flour
- 135g (5oz) ground almonds
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 225g (two sticks) unsalted butter
- 150g (6oz) raw cane sugar
- 1 vanilla pod
- 6 large eggs, approx. 45g each without shell
- 180ml (3/4 cup) double cream
- 120ml (1/2 cup) full-fat plain yoghurt
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4 (350°F/320°F fan). Ensure all ingredients are at room temperature.
2. Lightly butter the base and sides of two baking tins and sprinkle about 3 tbsp raw sugar in the bottom of the tins. I typically use a disposable tin-foil one measuring 18cm x 23cm (6” x 9”) – they’re great for storing the cakes in the freezer – which I line with a couple of strips of greaseproof (parchment) paper to make it easier to remove the cake. In addition, I find it’s a good size and shape to slice into fingers for serving to the hordes!
3. Pulse 225g (8oz) of the walnuts in a food processor until they are coarsely chopped. Transfer the chopped walnuts to a bowl and set aside.
4. Add the remaining 575g (20oz) walnuts to the food processor with the flour. Working in two batches if necessary, process until the mixture is very finely chopped and powdery. Add the ground almonds and salt and pulse to combine. Set the walnut flour mixture aside. Note: adding the plain flour to the walnuts keeps the nuts from becoming an oily paste.
5. Put the butter and sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Use the tip of a small knife to split the vanilla pod lengthwise, then scrape the seeds into the bowl, saving the pod for another use. Beat the mixture with an electric mixer set on high speed until it is light in colour and texture, about 3-4 minutes.
6. Then, one at a time, beat in the eggs, mixing well after each addition. Should the mixture start to curdle, add a tablespoon of the walnut flour mixture.
7. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Mix in about one-third of the walnut flour mixture, followed by the double cream, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix in another third of the walnut flour mixture, followed by the yoghurt. Mix in the remaining walnut flour mixture and beat, scraping down the bowl as needed, just until smooth. Using the spatula, gently fold in the chopped walnuts. Do not overmix.
8. Spread the batter evenly in the tins and sprinkle with the remaining 3 tbsp raw sugar. Bake until the top is golden brown and a wooden toothpick comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Set the tins on a wire rack to cool completely.
Sheree’s Handy Hints
1. This cake lives and dies on the quality of your walnuts. Ensure that they’re fresh and, preferably, organic. Rancid nuts are acrid and an abomination!
2. I noted that my squares below were fatter than Nadine’s above. The next time I make this cake – and there will most definitely be a next time – I’ll make it thinner by using three tins and reducing the baking time.
3. I’ll also use raw sugar for the cake and not just the dusting on top rather than golden caster sugar, which was all I had in the cupboard.
4. If you serve this as a dessert – and why wouldn’t you? – serve with either whipped cream or crème fraiche to really turn up the volume.
5. The cake keeps well in a cake tin for at least a week – not that it’ll ever be around that long – or in the freezer for a month.