This is one fabulous winter cake stacked with walnuts and plenty of butter, producing a Bundt-style cake with a crust that is as crackly sweet as candy. The recipe comes Maida Heatter who came to cookbook prominence in 1974 when she published her first book, “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great American Desserts,” earning the name of Queen of Desserts and numerous James Beard awards. The venerable food editor Craig Claiborne of The New York Times discovered her talents in the 1960s and wrote about her glowingly at the time.
Her recipes are a marvel of taste and precision and this adaptation is from her first book. When I made it the other day I called upon my neighbor, Amy, who is my unofficial taster of all of my baking endeavors. “Come for your cake,” I messaged her. She picked up her four slices of cake, enough for the whole family to have, and moments later I received this text: “Double yummy, love the walnuts and it’s almost all gone.”
It’s a wonderfully plain cake with a nutty, buttery crust that’s delicious.
Adapted from “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great American Desserts.”
Servings: 6 to 8
9 ounces (2 1/2 cups) walnuts
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 sticks (8 ounces) butter, at room temperature
Extra 2 tablespoons butter to grease pan, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons brandy
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and position the rack one-third up from the bottom. Generously butter a 9-inch Bundt pan using the extra butter. Set aside
Put 1 cup of the walnuts into a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse 8 to 10 times until you have some grounds nuts mixed with little pieces of nuts. Put the nuts into the prepared pan and tilt the pan and rotate until the nuts cover the sides of the pan and the center tube. Turn the pan over on a piece of waxed paper; the nuts that fall onto the paper (save 2 tablespoons of these nuts) should be used to fill in any gaps in the pan, which you apply with your fingers, sprinkling over sides and center tube. Set pan aside, reserving the extra 2 tablespoons for later use.
Meanwhile beat the butter until fluffy in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the sugar and beat on medium low speed until the butter and sugar are light and fluffy; don’t beat it hard to make it smooth. Beat in the extracts and brandy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter will smooth out. Measure the flour after sifting and sift again to combine the salt and baking powder. Gradually add to batter, beating in at medium low speed until combined, scraping down the sides of the pan as needed.
Process the remaining nuts, with 5 to 6 pulses until you have slightly larger pieces than the first batch of nuts. Add to the batter, folding in using a rubber spatula until thoroughly combined. Smooth the top and sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons reserved nuts over the top.
Put in the oven and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, checking the cake after 1 hour. Test by inserting a thin knife into the center; it should come out clean, otherwise continue to bake for about 15 minutes more. My cake was done in 1 hour but all ovens are different.
Put on a rack to rest for 20 minutes. Using a thin knife, run it around the sides of the pan to loosen gently any parts of the cake that might be sticking to the side. Upend onto a cooling rack, banging the pan until you hear the cake drop from the pan. Remove the pan and continue to cool to room temperature. Put on a plate and refrigerate for about 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator 20 minutes before serving, using a serrated knife to slice. Serve plain or with whipped cream, sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar or vanilla ice cream. Store in an airtight container, cake stand or cover with foil and refrigerate.