Apple Walnut Tea Cake

December 11, 2013

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes:

For this cake, the technique is to cut the fat into the flour, then gently mix in the wet ingredients. Cutting the fat into the flour creates small pockets of air in the finished tea cake as it bakes, yielding a lighter, more tender crumb. This technique is especially well suited to whole-grain or high-extraction flours, which tend to give more dense results. The goal is to offset dense texture with careful technique. The recipe also incorporates cultured dairy in the form of kefir cream or buttermilk as well as natural leaven to add additional flavor.

Chad Robertson

Makes: one 9 x 5-inch loaf cake, or two 5 x 3-inch miniature loaf cakes


  • 375 grams walnuts
  • 102 grams leaven
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 111 grams kefir cultured cream or crème fraîche
  • 129 grams grated apple
  • 171 grams whole grain spelt flour
  • 146 grams sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 89 grams olive oil
In This Recipe


  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan (or two 5 x 3-inch loaf pans) and line the bottom(s) with parchment paper. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely, then coarsely chop.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the leaven, egg, kefir cream, and grated apple. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Add the olive oil to the dry ingredients and, using a bench knife or pastry cutter, cut the oil into the flour until well distributed. Stir in the walnuts, then add the flour and oil mixture to the wet ingredients and stir well to combine.
  3. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan(s). Bake for 60 to 70 minutes (30 to 40 minutes for miniature loaves), or until the internal temperature of the cake reaches 200° F. Let cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then use a knife to loosen the cake from the pan(s) by slicing around the edges. Unmold onto a wire rack, and let cool completely. The cake will keep at room temperature, wrapped, for up to 3 days.

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Reviews (12) Questions (1)

12 Reviews

Carol October 19, 2015
In the author's notes he says he uses the leaven for added flavour. The loaf has added baking powder and baking soda in it, so I would just omit the leaven in this recipe.
AntoniaJames January 5, 2016
I strongly recommend not omitting the leaven. The leaven consists of 51 grams of water and 51 grams of flour--a total of nearly 4 ounces--which play an important role in the structure of the bread. (The leaven gets its flavor from a sourdough starter in the same 1:1 ratio, which is used in its creation.)<br /><br />If you do not have a leaven you should substitute flour and water in those amounts. I would probably make a paste of the two ingredients, adding just the tiniest pinch of yeast to it, and let it sit for a few hours to allow it to develop some flavor. It might rise a bit, too, which won't hurt the tea cake at all. <br /><br />I plan to bake this using a leaven made with my current starter, created and maintained according to Robertson's instructions in his book, "Tartine Bread." Stay tuned. ;o)
mela March 29, 2015
This is delicious, and healthy! The amount of walnuts is a typo - in Amazon comments about this recipe for his cookbook Tartine 3, the editor says it should have read 1/3 cup of walnuts. I read that after making it and used 1 and 1/3 cups pecans, which was good. (Walnuts would be better.) If you don't bake in grams, the grated apple is one apple. I also reduced the sugar from 3/4 cup to 1/2 cup, and will reduce it again next time to 1/3 cup. Will definitely be making it again.
AntoniaJames January 5, 2016
Thank you, mela, for these helpful tips! ;o)
mela March 22, 2015
'Leaven' is a traditional sourdough starter which has been readied for baking. See any sourdough bread cookbook for how to make it. Or Michael Pollan's chapter on breadmaking in 'Cooked'. This sounds brilliant - a sourdough quick bread!
Grace February 2, 2015
Do you think 102 gram of yeast is too much for 171 gram of flour? Also, why the cake no need to have yeast ferment time?
Carol October 19, 2015
Yes, the recipe does not ask for 102 grams of yeast, but of leaven. Which is a pre-made starter and added to this recipe for a sourdough flavour. The recipe has baking powder and baking soda in it, so leave out the leaven and do not put regular yeast in the mix.
Assonta W. October 26, 2014
This sounds heavenly~ Can't wait to try this. I have a vintage recipe book with the same technique for pund cake. It's called a "Butter Crust Poundcake" It is divine. <br />
Kt4 August 20, 2014
What is "leaven"?
Amanda H. October 26, 2014
Cynthia G. January 12, 2014
Would love to give this recipe a shot. Just wondering what I could use in place of the leaven?
Isabel March 1, 2014
Yes, Cynthia - that's my exact dilemma too! Chad, can you come to the rescue? Can I use fresh yeast instead? if yes, how much please? Thank you!!!