Serves a Crowd

Butter-Toasted-Walnut Layer Cake

August 14, 2011
6 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 12
Author Notes

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

What You'll Need
  • Cake
  • 2 cups shelled and chopped walnuts
  • 1-1/4 cups unsalted butter, divided and at room temperature
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • Frosting
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 6 cups icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6–9 tablespoons evaporated milk
  • 30 (approximately) walnut halves, for decoration
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • FrugalCat
  • Synky
  • Angel
  • Dessert's On Me
    Dessert's On Me
  • Nostrovia_ca

17 Reviews

FrugalCat September 23, 2020
I halved the recipe and made one pan of moist, nutty cupcakes. I just put whipped cream on top for frosting. Toss the nuts in a little flour before adding to the batter so they don't sink to the bottom.
KLM November 6, 2018
Does this really have 6 cups of icing sugar? Does not sound right...would think WAY too sweet. Want to make this for a special occasion but need feedback on the icing, please. Many thanks!
Pinky February 17, 2018
Made this cake for my walnut-loving mother's birthday and she and the party guests have not stopped raving about it! Thank you so much!
Nostrovia_ca February 21, 2018
So glad it was a hit, Pinky! Thanks for taking the time to let me know. (And I haven't made this cake in so long. It may be time...)
lin R. July 21, 2014
Do you think that black walnuts would work in this recipe?
Nostrovia_ca July 21, 2014
I think using black walnuts would be a wonderful idea! They're even more flavourful than regular walnuts and would like give the cake a whole extra dimension of richness. If you try it, let me know how it turns out!
Synky January 26, 2014
Six CUPS of icing sugar?!?! I made this recipe, following everything perfectly. It was very hard to eat the cake, much less taste it wothout being hit over the head with a wall of sugar. My 5 and 2 year old would not eat this after a single bite. It reminded me of those cakes one would get from a big box grocery store in the 90s for a whole group of children celebrating a birthday. Only cake to be thrown out to date in this household. Be wary!
Nostrovia_ca January 27, 2014
Sorry to hear that you did not like the cake, Synky. Others seem to have liked it and Food 52 actually tested it, chose it as a wildcard winner, and also included it in their best layer cakes roundup, so I guess it's a matter of taste.
Brian D. September 26, 2023
I am thinking I will make a Swiss buttercream. Six cups of sugar in an American buttercream is tooth-achingly sweet.
Angel September 22, 2013
I made this cake yesterday to serve for a dinner party. Although it turned out a little too dry (not sure why) it was delicious. I would make this again and maybe add a little more liquid.
Nostrovia_ca September 23, 2013
Sorry to hear it turned out a little dry for you, Angel. Something to watch with this cake is length of time in the oven. Since everyone's oven is different, the recommended baking time can vary. You can try testing the cake 5 minutes before the least amount of time called for and pulling it out if it seems cooked through and still moist. I'll usually pull the layers out if there's still a few tiny crumbs clinging to the cake tester; the few minutes' cooling time in the pan usually takes care of that last little bit of firming up without drying everything out.
Angel September 23, 2013
Actually, in my case I think it was the residual baking after I took it out of the oven that got me into trouble.
I am going to try to figure out how to make this into a coffee cake. So good. I just had the last slice for breakfast :)
lynnel November 13, 2014
Coffee - yes! This is nearly my grandmother's recipe for "man's cake" so-called because strong coffee was the liquid added to the batter. It also originally called for pecans rather than walnuts. The icing was more of a 7 minute penuche type frosting, also with a bit of coffee added. It was a surprisingly light-tasting yellow cake, and much loved by our family. Thank you so much for posting this!
kitchenkiddo December 24, 2012
Just made this and what a treat it is. I made one large cake and cut it into two layers, and made a tart raspberry and rhubarb compote for the middle layer to offset the sweet frosting-awesome!
Nostrovia_ca December 29, 2012
Glad you liked the recipe ~ and I love your twist of adding a compote layer!
Dessert's O. August 20, 2011
sounds amazing!
Nostrovia_ca August 20, 2011
Thanks ~ it really is a lovely cake! The buttered walnuts give it that extra-special something. (I'm so intrigued by your frozen sun gold cherry tomato cheesecake, by the way!)