This recipe is one to "bookmark" for the next time you serve a brunch, have guests over for coffee, or when you need a lighter dessert after a heavy Italian meal. You also could just make it to place on your kitchen counter and pick at over the next few days, like I did. Do we really need a reason to bake a cake other than for our own personal enjoyment? Even if you don't have a household full of people to share this with, I still recommend making it, as this is one of those recipes in which the flavor just improves and becomes more intense over time.
Using olive oil in place of butter, margarine, or vegetable oil is very common in Italian and Mediterranean baking. The result is always a moist and dense treat, which is lower in saturated fat and trans-fat free (not fat-free unfortunately). Unless you want a pronounced olive oil taste, it is best to use a mild or light olive oil as opposed to your best $30 bottle that you've been saving for a special recipe--this is not that recipe, so put it back! Because this cake has no frosting and very few ingredients, those ingredients really stand out: toasted walnuts and fresh oranges. The crust bakes up nice and crisp, but the inside is still light and moist. Add a sprinkle of confectioner's sugar and a dollop of whipped cream and voila!, dessert is served. Here are my tips for making a wonderful walnut cake:
- Because it is very moist, this cake will keep well for 4-5 days, tightly wrapped, at room temperature. In my opinion, the flavor actually improves the second day, so make this ahead of time, if possible.
- Don't panic if your cake starts to fall a bit in the center toward the end of the baking process. You will be flipping the cake over, so the flat bottom side will be facing up. Try not to open the oven too often during the baking process, as this creates temperature fluctuation and can cause baked goods to sink.
- If the top of the cake becomes too dark while baking, then lightly cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking process.
- It is not necessary to use your best extra-virgin olive oil for this recipe. A milder, everyday olive oil is preferable as it has a more neutral flavor. The purpose of the olive oil is to keep the cake moist.
- Try adding lemon zest instead of orange zest for a citrus cake. When serving, sprinkle some additional zest (orange or lemon) over the whipped cream for an attractive presentation.
- If you don't have a springform pan, you can bake the cake in a Bundt pan or a regular cake pan with 2 1/2 inch sides. Be sure to coat them well with cooking spray to prevent sticking.
Walnut Orange Cake
1 1/2 cups lightly toasted walnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 cup olive oil
Lightly sweetened whipped cream for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Spray a 9-inch diameter springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place a round of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan and spray the paper.
Grind the walnuts in a food processor or mini-chopper until finely ground but not powdery. Combine the ground walnuts, flour, baking powder, and cinnamon in a medium bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs until frothy, 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugar, and beat until light, thick, and pale yellow, about 4 minutes. Gradually add the walnut-flour mixture and then the orange juice, zest, and olive oil, beating until well combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and then place the pan on a baking sheet. Bake the cake until a tester inserted into the center emerges clean, about 1 hour.
Cool the cake completely in the pan on a rack. Release the pan sides and carefully invert the cake onto a platter. Remove the parchment paper and sprinkle confectioner's sugar over the top. Serve with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream.
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