Friday, November 23, 2007

Walnut Cake with Apple Sauté and Caramel

‘Tis the season for nut recipes. The holidays always come with plenty of festive nut-filled cookies, cakes, tarts and tortes that feature almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts or walnuts. Spices, dried fruits and booze also figure prominently in our holiday pastries.

The first nut dessert of the season's line-up is one I adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley. She offers a Walnut Layer Cake with Coffee Buttercream, but I wanted something lighter and more in keeping with the season. So I halved the recipe to produce just one layer, added a pinch of orange zest and decided to plate it with some sautéed apples and a caramel sauce to really give it the full autumn treatment. The cake has a warm walnut flavor, is buttery moist and has just the right crumb. When combined with fruit and a hint of citrus, this composition brings some of the best winter flavors into full bloom.

This recipe is a perfect match for many, many different flavors. You can add a bit of brandy to the cake or some spices to the caramel. You can sauté the apples with some rosemary sugar. You can add a bit of espresso or orange juice to the caramel or you can omit the caramel and serve with caramel ice cream. Or make a ginger orange syrup. Omit the apples and the caramel and serve with coffee ice cream. You can substitute bananas for the apples. Or some variation on all of the above. You get the picture! Experiment with your favorite combinations.

Bench notes:
- This is more of a cake than a dense walnut torte, which is also on my list of projects.
- As always with caramel, give it your undivided attention. It will turn on you in a second! Try to take it to a deep amber color to avoid it being too sweet. Take it off the heat the moment it reaches the right color and add the other ingredients to stop the cooking. And remember, whenever you add an ingredient to hot caramel, it’s going to bubble viciously. Just stand back and let it unwind. Also, be sure the cream and butter are at room temperature. Adding cold ingredients to hot caramel will likely cause it to seize on you. To fix a seized caramel, place it on low heat and whisk gently until dissolved.
- The ratios for the butter and cream in the caramel can be adjusted to your own taste, as well as the salt. I prefer a salty caramel!
- If you fear the caramel, you can make a simple sauce by bringing 1 C of brown sugar and 1/3 C water to a boil. Add 2 T butter and 2 T heavy cream and whisk to combine. Stir in 1 T cider vinegar to finish the sauce. The amount of butter, cream and cider vinegar can all be adjusted to suit your own personal preferences.
- I always grind nuts with a bit of sugar from the recipe to avoid releasing the oils and producing a nut paste.
- Use your favorite apple of the season that will hold up to cooking. I like the tartness of Granny Smith.

Walnut Cake with Apple Sauté and Caramel
adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley

6 oz butter (1 1/2 sticks) @ room temperature
1/2 C + 2 T + 2t sugar
1/2 t orange zest (optional)
2 eggs @ room temperature
1 T maple syrup
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/2 C walnuts
1 C flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt

Caramel Sauce
1/4 C water
1 C sugar
1 t light corn syrup
2 T butter @ room temperature
1/4 C heavy cream @ room temperature
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 t vanilla extract
salt to taste

Apple Sauté
4 apples
1 T butter
3 T sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush an 8-inch cake pan with butter and line the bottom with a parchment round. Butter the parchment and dust the bottom and sides with flour.

Place the walnuts in a food processor with the 2T and 2t of sugar. Process until the nuts are finely ground and resemble bread crumbs. Be sure to stop if the mixture looks like it’s starting to clump.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt.

Beat the butter until smooth. Add the 1/2 C sugar and orange zest. Cream the mixture on medium speed until pale, light and very fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly before adding the next and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add maple syrup and vanilla. Blend in ground walnuts. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the flour by hand in three batches, mixing just enough to moisten and blend. The batter will be quite thick. Scrape into the prepared cake pan and smooth out the top.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 28 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a thin blade knife around the cake to loosen and invert. Flip the cake back over to right side up and cool completely.

For the caramel sauce:
Place 1/4 C water, sugar and corn syrup in a saucepan and turn up the heat. Cook the sugar mixture until it turns an amber color, about 7 minutes. Watch closely. Once the sugar starts to color it accelerates very quickly and will darken to a burnt and bitter stage very fast. If it's not coloring evenly, swirl the pan just a bit to circulate. Once it has reached the right color, take it off the heat and slowly add the cream. It will bubble up vigorously. Once it subsides a bit, add the butter and whisk until thoroughly combined. If there are any seized bits of caramel, return to low heat and stir continuously until dissolved. Stir in the scraped vanilla seeds or vanilla extract and salt to taste. Set aside.

For the apple sauté:
Peel, core and slice apples into thin wedges. Melt 1 T butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples; sprinkle with 1 T sugar. Sauté apples, shaking the pan to toss, until almost tender and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 2 T sugar and continue to cook and toss until sugar melts and apples are caramelized. Set aside.

Lightly brush the top and sides of the cake with the caramel sauce. Plate a piece of the cake and top with apple slices and drizzle with sauce.


Anonymous said...

Apple Saute--now there's a concept... and how lovely. But in my early morning pre-caffeine blear, my eyes kept trying to make your caramel sauce into a carrot sauce and I wondered where you got the idea to put such lovely fat egg noodles on top of your cake!! And then you said it was okay to "experiment". Now can I have seconds, please?


Anonymous said...

This cake, according to the photos, is so lush as to be just short of obscene. As someone whose palate rejects maple, I'll prolly go with Greek honey instead, but I can't wait to try it.

(The apple saute is an old trick for me -- Ma always did 'em on pork-chop night, a tradition I honor often.)

pastry studio said...

lotus, honey would definitely be a great substitute!

Julie said...

That looks really delicious.

Anonymous said...

omg, dying here. If there is a heaven, it will have restaurants full of Pastry Studio confections, especially this one.