Make Ahead

The Walnut Variation: A Cake

June 27, 2021
6 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Makes 1 cake
Author Notes

Recently, I discovered The Worlds's Best Cake -- a lovely vanilla affair with whipped cream, meringue, and almonds. It was indeed amazing, and I thank Sweet Paul for the introduction. Ever since I made this soft, chewy, crisp, crunchy, and billowy cake, I've been pondering variations on the theme. This is the Walnut Variation: coffee-flavored cake, cinnamon meringue, toasted walnuts, and maple vanilla whipped cream. The technique is Sweet Paul; the flavor variation is mine. —Aliwaks

Test Kitchen Notes

WHO: Aliwaks is a longtime Food52er from Philadelphia.
WHAT: A stunner of a cake -- full stop.
HOW: Bake two cakes with meringue on top of them; whip some cream; stack. Watch your dinner party go silent.
WHY WE LOVE IT: This cake is a total show-stopper. It’s dramatic and showy, and it tastes that way too: Deep from brown sugar and walnuts and lightly spiced, you’ll want to make this for every occasion, ever. We already do. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 10 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 5 egg whites
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  1. The night before: Separate eggs and let egg whites sit on the counter overnight, covered with a clean cloth. Pour cream into a saucepan. Split and scrape vanilla bean into the cream and heat until just boiling. Remove from heat and let cool. Cover and chill overnight.
  2. The next day: Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare a 9 x 12-inch cake pan with buttered parchment. (Alternatively, you can prepare two 9-inch round cake pans.)
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and brown sugar until creamy and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Whisk together flour, baking powder, espresso powder, and salt. Add mixture to butter and sugar in 3 increments, mixing fully between additions.
  5. Whisk together egg yolks and milk. Add to batter in 3 increments, incorporating fully each time. Scrape batter into prepared pan.
  6. In a clean mixing bowl (I wipe down my bowl and whisk attachment with vinegar), whip egg whites until foamy. Add sugar and cinnamon and whip to soft peaks.
  7. Spread the meringue over cake batter, cover with toasted walnuts and bake 35-40 minutes, until the meringue is crackly. Let cake cool completely.
  8. Meanwhile, remove vanilla bean from cream. Add maple syrup and whip cream to soft peaks. Cut cake in half and place one half on a cake plate, meringue side up. Cover with whipped cream. Top with remaining half, meringue side up. You will end up with a 2-layer square cake from your single-layer rectangular cake. (If you're doing this in two round cake pans, just top one with the other.) Let sit 1-2 hours.
  9. To go completely over-the-top, serve with a dark chocolate sauce punched up with a few dashes of walnut bitters.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • betsmc
  • Anna Berman
    Anna Berman
  • Marques
  • wanderash
  • Dia Sherman
    Dia Sherman

89 Reviews

Diordi December 29, 2022
When the cake was ready the meringue was still underbaked. By the time the meringue had crisped up a bit the cake was dry as a bone. Both the meringue and the cake were subpar. Just make your favorite cake recipe and top it with meringues. It will be just as impressive and taste much better too. I don’t know what I am going to do with the leftovers. Nobody wants to eat it.
Shortrib June 27, 2021
Definitely a show-stopper, even the square version (rectangular pan). And it was easier than anticipated lifting it out of the pan using the corners of the baking paper (I laid the baking paper so it covered the sides of the pan, folding it at the corners, well-greased). I laid the whole thing on a board and then cut and lifted one layer on top of the other. Also very delicious! My suggestion is to halve the salt if you use salted butter. I will make this again!!
Susan M. March 31, 2021
We used to make this cake when I was growing up. I think it was called Blitz Cake in Mom's Betty Crocker cookbook. But we didn't add nuts. This looks divine and I can't wait to make it for Easter!
rmandell October 1, 2019
I've made this twice. I just used vanilla extract, and I didn't leave the egg whites out overnight, and used parchment paper in 9" round pans. Other than that I followed the unusual recipe and it turned out perfectly both times. it's a big hit. The cake is not very sweet, but the merringe is and so they go great together.
Nancy M. November 13, 2018
I wrote in 2014 with kudos comments as a this recipe is a rejuvination of a family favorite of my Mother's. The last time I made it was day before to make sure I didn't run out of energy with a large gathering. Just watch your humidity. Tis a meringue!
Bon chance.
Fanny W. November 13, 2018
Does anyone know or care to guess: Will the cake with meringue keep for a day before assembling with cream and serving?
betsmc October 6, 2018
Can anyone tell me how many people the cake served? Thank you.
Lillian A. October 7, 2018
It’s a classic 9 inch or in my case 24cm mold so you can serve as many as with any other cake... cca 8 to 10 slices
Anna B. June 17, 2018
1. Don't toast nuts ahead or they'll burn
2. Mix in eggs and milk with the butter and sugar first. Then add the dry ingredients in thirds.
Marques February 17, 2018
Hi, this looks and sounds amazing. Will attempt for a brunch next weekend—how many servings should I expect to get from this recipe? I’m expecting 15 people...may include poached pears to supplement for those not wanting cake/dairy. Thanks!!!
Curlytexan January 15, 2018
Made this last night and it was AMAZING! After reading the comments, I was a bit nervous, but I followed the recipe as written and it turned out perfectly. I used the two 9" rounds. The cake batter was a little thicker than other cakes I've made, but I used an offset spatula to evenly spread it and it baked perfectly. I did use a long skewer to test for doneness (poked through a crack in the meringue) and it was clear at 45 minutes, but I left it in five minutes longer to make sure the meringue would be dry. I left it cool completely and added the whip cream and assembled about an hour before I served it. I let it sit at room temp during that hour, but it's winter. I don't know if that would have held up as well in a hot southern summer. I got rave reviews from guests and multiple requests for the recipe. There was only one slice left for me to enjoy with coffee the next day. I will definitely be making this again!
wanderash December 30, 2017
Hi--has anyone tried to make this with gluten-free flour?
wanderash December 30, 2017
what about using 1/2 gluten-free flour and 1/2 almond flour-- any guesses on how that would work?
Dia S. October 10, 2016
This is a delicious cake with a fabulous marriage of flavors. However, I found baking the meringue on top of the cake to be problematic because (a) the meringue is not completely dried out when the cake is done, (b) always hard to test for doneness through the meringue, (c) whipped cream introduces more moisture, causing meringue to get more chewy, and (d) meringue completely collapses in the fridge. Leads me to wonder if it wouldn't be preferable to bake the meringue and cake separately, avoiding a. and b. and permitting the meringue to dry completely, then assemble immediately before serving, avoiding c. and d. This would make it more like a daquoise, a wonderful thing.
Idalu December 2, 2016
I had the same problem. It needed 50 mins instead of 35. I will try again using your suggestion and see if it's better.
Idalu December 10, 2016
I tried it again alas a big disappointment. The dough was quite dense (might be because the recipe says to add the flour mix before the eggs and milk mixture without alternating). Making the dough separately sounded like a good idea (my own) but it was difficult to detach. The cream was good. Conclusion: this was my last attempt.
rob W. August 15, 2016
looks terrific. i have a question: the instruction to cut cake in half and stack 1/2 the cake on top of the other 1/2, that works for the square pan but for the round cake layers do you have to double the amount of batter to make 2 complete rounds? tx!
Odegaard August 15, 2016
Hey Rob -- no need to double for 2 rounds. There are two layers of cake: either the 9x12" cake cut in half and stacked, or the 2 rounds stacked. Enjoy!
Nadia G. June 27, 2016
Looks fabulous!
jeff May 28, 2016
Hello. I am not into coffee. It makes me quite ill. Any ideas about what can be substituted for the Expresso Powder? Chocolate is probably too overpowering.
admccue April 2, 2020
Would chicory work for you?
ChefJune May 23, 2016
What about Maple Walnut Ice Cream as garnish for this cake? I have a great recipe...
Looks wonderful but a cake made with flour is not Passover friendly!
Aliwaks April 18, 2016
you are correct--it should not be on this list
Jenny March 26, 2016
Making this for graduation!! I can't wait!!
Aliwaks December 7, 2015
THANK YOU Cathy & Odegaard & Chloe & anyone else I haven't thanked for making the cake all the good feedback--
cathy B. December 6, 2015
This is a magical and wonderful cake! MAKE it, it's exciting to make and a delicious delight to eat. Using a silica pack to keep it crunchy totally works. I LOVE THIS CAKE. The recipe is perfect. God Bless This Cake and Aliwaks.
Tarah T. July 13, 2023
What is a silica pack?