The Musette: walnut squares

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

Method

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.

Cards from Copenhagen IV

Yesterday’s American announcer kept waxing lyrical about Copenhagen. I seem to recall he trotted out the same fare in Melbourne. Yes, there were more fans at yesterday’s race but Copenhagen is more easily accessible, particularly for the hordes of Scandinavians who started drinking at the start of the race and were still going strong 12 hours later. I’m guessing there’s some sore heads today. The Copenhagen newspapers patted the City on the back for holding the races in the City. I’m sorry but, while the time trials were in the City, the road races were most definitely in the suburbs. That said, the Danes clearly love their cycling and put on a good show but, IMHO, it lacked the pizzazz of Varese, the ambience of Salzburg and the energy of Geelong. I was also horrified, as I walked from the course yesterday, at the amount of rubbish, largely tins, left behind. Methinks the Danes aren’t quite as green as they’d like you to think.

I went to wait outside the Press Conference to get Cav’s photo and autograph for my friend Olivier who had said that on no account was I to leave Danish soil without it. Having failed to secure it in Melbourne, now was my big chance but frankly I hesitate to disturb riders after a race. After riding, all I want is a shower and something to eat. Why should they be any different?  Thereafter, Ute and I ventured into downtown Copenhagen in search of dinner. We wanted sustenance rather than a gourmet meal and I managed to find a small restaurant which delivered a delicious meal at a reasonable price, no mean feat in pricey Copenhagen.

This morning I rose at the crack of dawn to meet my friend Bert from New Zealand who was heading home via London. Needing two more World Championships to achieve his goal of 75 attended, he’s going to next year’s Track World Championships in Melbourne and the Road Race World Championships in Limburg. Which is kinda neat as his first one in 1948 was also in Holland. So, I’ll get to see him for one last time providing his health remains stable. I gave him a book for his ever growing library which is now on display at New Zealand’s national velodrome.

As I checked out of the hotel I bumped into another couple who were checking out. It was Mark Cavendish and his girlfriend. This really was my BIG chance and I have finally secured his signature on a copy of the official UCI results page which lists Cav’s palmares. I’m going to have this framed along with one of the photos I took. I’m sure Olivier will be delighted. I should add that they’re a delightful couple. He’s modest, almost shy and she’ll ensure he keeps his feet on the ground and help him deal with the inevitable problems of his ever growing fame. Good luck to them both.

I had a late flight back this evening which left me plenty of time to renew my brief acquaintance with Copenhagen. Having already visited most of the City’s major attractions and after taking account of the mild weather, I decided to take a boat trip around the harbour. This gave me a great view of the City as the boat wound its way through the Inner Harbour, along Christianshavn’s canals and around Slotsholmen, the island on which the original town of Havn was established. Two relatively recent buildings stood out: the Opera House and The Black Diamond library which houses Europe’s largest collection of book’s published in Denmark. Copenhagen has some very architecturally interesting modern buildings both domestic and commercial. I also had a quick stroll around some of Copenhagen’s design stores, proudly displaying goods by Arne Jacobsen, Georg Jensen, Kaare Klimt and Vipp. I couldn’t resist nipping into a bookstore and buying a couple of cookery books. Having learnt what little Danish I know in a restaurant, I can understand recipes.

One place I would have liked to visit is Noma. But, as befits a restaurant twice voted “Best in the World”, the waiting list is longer than the number of yesterday’s spectators. I first saw the restaurant’s young chef, Rene Redzepi, on a cookery programme some years back and thought his philosophy was extremely interesting. I loved the creativity and simplicity of his dishes. He lives and breathes the mantra of local and seasonal showcasing both unusual and everyday Nordic ingredients. It’s intelligent food served with passion and frankly you’d expect nothing less of a chef with The French Laundry and El Bulli on his palmares. For now, I’ll have to content myself with his cookery book.

The airport shuttle bus driver, as I was his only passenger, asked me how I’d enjoyed Copenhagen. In truth I said I’d had a lovely time, and I had, but was ready to go home to France. We then discussed some of the other places we’d both visited and he asked me which was my favourite country? You know the answer to that question: it’s France. Yes, it’s nice to travel, even nicer to travel and watch cycling, but it’s great to be back home.

Tuesday postscript: Today, L’Equipe wondered why Cav hadn’t tweeted about his sore head, like Wiggins and Millar, after Sunday GB team night’s celebrations. We know why, but they don’t. And I thought L’Equipe had the inside track on all matters cycling.