My father's Ukrainian parents harvested the bounty of three towering, majestic walnut trees that grew in the field between their house and the gas bar and garage they owned and operated. In summer I remember walking amongst the trees, the sun-bleached, brittle blades of grass pricking the soles of my feet as I looked for fallen walnut pods with which to practise my soccer moves or my fast-ball pitch. Thanks to those trees, this favourite Eastern-European nut became a favourite of mine; I love the frilly, pale-brown meats and use them in salads, risottos, sauces, and, of course, baking. This cake was one of my paternal grandmother's recipes, though it originally called for pecans. As a testament to the trees I remember from my youth, I've adapted the recipe for walnuts. —Nostrovia_ca
Test Kitchen Notes
WHO: Nostrovia_ca is a book editor by day, writer and cook by night.
WHAT: A rich, toasty, show-stopping layer cake.
HOW: A yellow cake filled with toasted walnuts gets layered and frosted with a creamy, rich icing.
WHY WE LOVE IT: The warm, toasty flavor of this cake is perfect for the season -- and is different than your common layer cake. The frosting is creamy and slick, with the more-subdued, nutty cake serving as the perfect counterpart. Plus, the thing is simply gorgeous. —The Editors
shelled and chopped walnuts
unsalted butter, divided and at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans, covering the bottoms with parchment paper, greasing the paper lightly as well. Dust greased pans with flour. Set aside. Spread chopped walnuts over a large baking sheet. Melt 1/4 cup of butter and drizzle over nuts, then stir so all pieces are lightly coated. Bake for 15–20 minutes, stirring frequently, until nuts are well browned. Remove baking sheet from oven and slide nuts into a bowl to cool. Reserve.
In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. With a mixer, cream the butter. With beaters running, add sugar gradually until mixture is pale yellow and fluffy. Break eggs one at a time into a small bowl; break the yolks with the tines of a fork before adding to the cake batter, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla extract.
Blend dry ingredients into batter alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients, and mixing well after each addition. Add cooled roasted walnuts to batter, stirring just to combine.
Divide batter evenly between the three cake pans and bake in the center of the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes. Test cakes beginning at the 20-minute mark and remove as soon as a tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Cool cakes and frost as directed below.
For frosting, cream together butter and sugar in a mixer. Add the vanilla and evaporated milk until the mixture is of spreading consistency. If needed, dribble in more evaporated milk or sprinkle in more icing sugar as necessary to achieve the right consistency.
Frost in between each cake layer and then over the top and down the sides of the assembled cake. Decorate outer top edge of cake with walnut halves.