Walnut Sponge Cake

September  3, 2015
2 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Serves 10 to 12
Author Notes

The recipe below is light, moist, and flavorful. It’s also simple to make and versatile. You can vary the type of nut and the fineness of the flour, you can add 1/2 cup or so of coarsely chopped nuts to the nut flour, or mix in some bits of ground up chocolate. Go ahead and pair different nuts with different citrus zests or almond extract or vanilla or a little brandy or rum…

Adapted from Flavor Flours (Artisan 2014) —Alice Medrich

What You'll Need
  • 2 cups (200 grams) walnut pieces
  • 5 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1 tablespoon brandy or rum
  • 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 small unsprayed or organic lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Confectioners' for dusting, optional
  • Lightly sweetened whipped cream, optional
  • Berries, plain or sweetened, optional
  1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Grease a 10-inch angel food cake (plain tube) pan with a removable bottom with vegetable oil spray or butter.
  2. In a food processor with a dry bowl and blade, pulse the nuts until finely ground.
  3. In a large mixing bowl whisk the egg yolks, salt, vanilla, and 1/3 cup of the sugar just to blend. Grate the zest of the lemon directly into the bowl. Whisk until the mixture is thick and pale yellow.
  4. Combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer (or other large bowl if using a hand-held mixer) and beat with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed (or high speed with a hand mixer) until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, at high speed, until peaks are stiff but not dry when the whisk is lifted.
  5. Scrape half of the egg whites over the yolks and pour half of the nut flour on top. Use a large rubber spatula to fold until the elements are partially incorporated. Repeat with the remaining egg whites and nut flour, folding just until incorporated. Scrape the batter into the pan (it will be slightly less than half full) and spread it evenly. Bake until the cake is golden brown on top, springs back when lightly pressed, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool.
  6. To unmold the cake, run a skewer around the tube and slide a thin spatula around the sides of the pan to detach the cake. Lift the tube to remove the cake. Slide the spatula under the cake all around to detach the bottom. Use two spatulas to lift the cake off of the bottom. Serve the cake upside down or right side up! It keeps, wrapped airtight, at room temperature for at least 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months; bring to room temperature before serving.
  7. Sieve a little powdered sugar or the cake before serving, if desired. Serve plain or with berries and cream.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • GlutenFreeBabe
  • Lisa
  • Sarah Jampel
    Sarah Jampel
  • Aisha
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).

15 Reviews

Aisha April 7, 2018
This is a beautiful sponge. Light but satisfying and incredibly flavorful. Truly amazing what you can coax out of just sugar eggs and nuts.
I actually made the version that is in Flavor flours (nutty sponge cake), by subbing the almond meal in that recipe with walnuts. I omitted the lemon zest as I was serving it drizzled with a chocolate sauce.
I was wondering, however, about the differences between this version and the one in Flavor Flours which calls for 280g of nut flour and 130g of sugar (vs 200g and 115g here). What is the rationale behind these differences? Is it the fat level of walnuts vs almonds perhaps?
From my quick notes on the book, the nutty sponge in flavor Flours seems to have a format that's closer to the other sponges/génoises in the book, with an added egg and the tube pan, both for added structure perhaps, and the fat omitted (accounting for the fat in the nuts, I presume).
Would love to hear your explanations on this, Alice.
As always thank you for being such an inspiration!
Nadia January 25, 2017
I love this recipe. So simply and light and everyone loves it. I have been using a normal form - not angel cake form. The only thing is, just a few minutes after taking the cake out of the oven it collapses. It still tastes amazing and is not too dense but wonder if there is anything I can do about it.
Aisha April 7, 2018
I know this was posted a year ago but in case you're still wondering, the tube pan actually helps support the structure which relies solely on the eggs (no gluten from the nuts). The extra support from the central tube and the narrower circular shape means that the cakes takes less time to set from the center to the middle. So it's important to bake it in that kind of pan. You might get away with baking it as a really thin sheet and then stacking them, but I'm really not sure, never tried it.
Another thing is, how much does it collapse ? If it's just shrinking a bit to the level at which the batter was originally on the pan, that's pretty normal for a sponge/génoise. If it's collapsing further than that, yes you're having structural issues (either from the shape of the pan, or under/overwhipped whites, or a too heavy batter if you're not weighing ingredients). Hope that helps!
GlutenFreeBabe September 13, 2015
This looks like a great recipe!! I am gluten free and can't wait to make this. I had the same question about the Cream of Tartar. So I am also wondering what that ingredient is for, and why the lemon juice/vinegar will work in it's place? Or how it will alter the recipe? Thank you!
theresa C. September 13, 2015
This sounds and looks delicious, will definitely give it a try. I do not own an angel food pan, instead I am going to bake it in a cake pan with a latch on the side with a removable bottom. You think that will work??
Cynthia F. September 13, 2015
The problem with not using a tube pan is cooking time. The tube in the middle allows the center of the cake to bake along with the rest. I'm not sure it would work, but if you try it, you will have to watch the baking process very carefully. All without opening the oven door, of course. You don't want a delicate cake like this to fall!
Terry September 13, 2015
I want to try this recipe! My husband has celiac disease and I like having a cake recipe up my sleeve. A question, however...can I sub almonds instead of walnuts for this? A few of my friends have walnut allergies.
theresa C. September 13, 2015
I would like the answer to your question also. Still waiting . . .
Lynn September 9, 2015
There is a missing step---the one where you grind the walnuts into "nut flour." You can find this recipe, slightly altered here, on other web sites.
Sarah J. September 10, 2015
That's been fixed—thank you for your patience!
Lisa September 9, 2015
What is the measurement for the nut flour?
Eunjee S. September 9, 2015
Hello, before I put my question here, I'd like to say thank you for this nice recipe:) Telling the truth, I'm a novice homebaker from South Korea, where common ingredients there are hard to get. My question is, among the ingredients you said, is there anything to recommend to replace cream of tartar with?
Barb168 September 13, 2015
Hi Eunjee, you can substitute 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice or white vinegar for the 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar.
Eunjee S. September 14, 2015
Appreciate your help:) Thanks for your comment, I become able to give it a try now:)
Barb168 September 14, 2015
You're welcome! Glad to help. :)