5 Ingredients or Fewer

Flourless Pecan Cake

March 19, 2021
37 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
Author Notes

Inspired by community member Emiko’s Calabrian Walnut Cake, this recipe has three ingredients: pecans, brown sugar, and eggs, plus a generous pinch of salt for balance. You can add a shake-shake-shake of confectioners’ sugar, or serve the cake with sweetened sour cream. Or double the recipe to create a layer cake frosted with your favorite buttercream (vanilla would be great here). But, of all the times we ate this cake at the office, our favorite serving style ended up being: plain, with hot coffee alongside.

A note on planning: This cake is best if you refrigerate it for at least 8 hours in advance of serving—this helps yield the cleanest slice. If you're pressed for time, just refrigerate for however long you can; it'll still be delicious, but may crumble slightly. —Emma Laperruque

  • Prep time 8 hours 30 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Serves 1 (9-inch) cake
Ingredients
  • Butter, for greasing the pan
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
  • 1 cup (213 grams) light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 pound (340 grams) raw pecan halves or pieces
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch cake pan. Line the bottom with a round of parchment, then butter the parchment.
  2. Add the egg yolks to a large mixing bowl. Add the egg whites to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk, staring at low and gradually increasing the speed to medium-high, until stiff peaks form.
  3. While the whites are whisking, add the brown sugar and salt to the egg yolks. Stir until very smooth and liquidy.
  4. Pulse the pecans in a food processor until a fine meal forms, but not so long that they turn into pecan butter—it should look like sand. Stir the ground pecans into the egg yolk mixture until completely combined.
  5. By now, your egg whites are probably whipped. Gently fold them into the pecan mixture, taking care to not deflate the egg whites. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan.
  6. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is browned and mostly firm to the touch, and the center no longer wobbles.
  7. Cool completely before removing from the pan. Ideally: Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 or more hours before slicing and serving (this helps yield a cleaner slice). You can remove the cake from the fridge an hour before serving if you want it at room temperature, or not. If you're pressed for time, just refrigerate for however long you can; it'll still be delicious, but may crumble slightly.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Dana
    Dana
  • Krispyecca
    Krispyecca
  • carolaschmidt
    carolaschmidt
  • Bryant Miller
    Bryant Miller
  • Michelle de Lima
    Michelle de Lima
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in October 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

40 Reviews

Kruthika December 8, 2020
This was delicious! I halved the recipe since I had only about 100 gm of pecans, and it was perfection. Dana’s right, it goes so well with coffee, can’t wait to make this again!

Thank you to the other reviewers below, I followed two of the suggestions, and toasted the nuts before blitzing to a powder, and added a splash of vanilla extract.

It was the first time I was beating egg whites, so I was unsure of when to stop, and was thinking it’d be helpful to have a video, but thanks to the wonder that is the internet, a quick search threw up an image, so I knew what I was working towards. It would help to add time for both a stand mixer, and a handheld one.

Thank you for the recipe!
 
Kruthika December 8, 2020
This was delicious! I halved the recipe since I had only about 100 gm of pecans, and it was perfection. Dana’s right, it goes so well with coffee, can’t wait to make this again!

Thank you to the other reviewers below, I followed two of the suggestions, and toasted the nuts before blitzing to a powder, and added a splash of vanilla extract.

It was the first time I was beating egg whites, so I was unsure of when to stop, and was thinking it’d be helpful to have a video, but thanks to the wonder that is the internet, a quick search threw up an image, so I knew what I was working towards. It would help to add time for both a stand mixer, and a handheld one.

Thank you for the recipe!
 
Kruthika December 8, 2020
This was delicious! I halved the recipe since I had only about 100 gm of pecans, and it was perfection. Dana’s right, it goes so well with coffee, can’t wait to make this again!

Thank you to the other reviewers below, I followed two of the suggestions, and toasted the nuts before blitzing to a powder, and added a splash of vanilla extract.

It was the first time I was beating egg whites, so I was unsure of when to stop, and was thinking it’d be helpful to have a video, but thanks to the wonder that is the internet, a quick search threw up an image, so I knew what I was working towards. It would help to add time for both a stand mixer, and a handheld one.

Thank you for the recipe!
 
Dana April 26, 2020
I shared this recipe with my Mom, who loves to bake. She surprised me with it for my birthday, and it was so incredibly moist and delicious. She baked and refrigerated the night before as suggested. It's also yummy with a great cup of coffee. I love pecans and this cake is a true celebration of all things pecan.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. April 26, 2020
Happy birthday!
 
Krispyecca January 2, 2020
This was so good! The flavor reminds me of pecan pie. I made these as cupcakes and topped with cream cheese icing and sprinkles (sprinkles make it a party!).
 
Author Comment
Emma L. January 3, 2020
Yum! Love the idea of a cream cheese frosting!
 
Beverlee June 23, 2019
Lovely! I made this recipe for a work function, as a number of coworkers are gluten free. I baked the batter in mini muffin pans (12 minutes was perfect) for one bite treats, topped with a rosette of not too sweet icing. They were polished off by ALL staff, not just the GF ones! Will make again
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 24, 2019
Yay, so excited to hear that the recipe worked well in a mini muffin pan! Little one-bite cakes sound adorable :)
 
W J. June 20, 2019
I am on a strict weight loss diet, and as a chemist (retired), I do calorie calculations from scratch ingredients every day. It is easy once you get the hang of it. I also weigh everything I eat as well as ingredients when cooking.

Calculating the calories of this Flourless Pecan Cake is easy, thanks to the recipe specifications in grams! (Hooray! Do this more often!)

I hope the table, I created below is readable once posted. Here goes.

Flourless Pecan Cake 6.30 cals/gram (estimated) or 630 cal/100 grams ~3.5 oz)

Cals/gram Ingredient Weight used Cals used
7.16 est butter for pan ~10g 72
1.20 4 lg [email protected] 52g/each 208 250
3.77 sugar, lt brown 213 803
6.79 pecans 340 2308
0.00 salt, 1 tsp 8 0
______ ______
Totals 779 3433
Assume 30% weight loss on baking (YMMV)
545 g
Since the calories in the total dish do not change on cooking, to get the calories per gram of the final dish divide the total cals of the ingredients used by the final weight (viz. =3444/545), which gives 6.30 calories/gram or 630 calories/100 grams or 3.5 oz (if you're metric challenged.)

The picture shows the cake divided into eight pieces, so each piece would be the total calories divided by 8 or 429 cals.

If I made this cake, I would have a more exact figure as I would weigh it after baking to get the actual weight loss. Here I used a reasonable estimate of 30% weight loss. Might be a little more. Might be a little less.

Also note that I used the caloric value of raw pecans, not toasted.

Toasting them would RAISE the calories considerably, if you used the same weight as for raw pecans! The reason is that the raw pecans have a bit more water, which is lost on roasting, thus concentrating the calories in what is left. So using roasted pecans at the same weight is like using more concentrated pecans.

Note: The sugar caramelizes and forms a sticky glue, which along with the egg help to bind the cake together. The egg/sugar combination helps to act in the place of the gluten proteins found in flour. Beating the egg whites incorporates air and thus helps to leaven the cake, but none of these things change the calories/unit weight.
 
kenne1ka May 25, 2019
This is my new favorite go-to dessert! I love it plain or with a drizzle of caramel sauce. I was out of shortening, so I used butter instead, and it worked just fine. I am experimenting now with substituting maple syrup for the brown sugar. It’s baking now. If the cake is as tasty as the batter was, it will be awesome! I guess I will find out tomorrow!
 
kenne1ka May 26, 2019
The organic maple syrup substitute was a resounding success. I substituted 3/4 cup syrup for the brown sugar. Less volume was lost from the whipped egg whites, so I would recommend either using a spring form pan or setting aside 2/3 cup of batter to bake in a small oven-safe dish.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. May 28, 2019
Yay that's great!
 
carolaschmidt May 16, 2019
Hi. I did roast the pecans and let them cool completely before grinding them up. I also substituted 1/2 of the sugar with coconut sugar (because I had it on hand) and added vanilla paste (because I can't seem to bake anything without it). The results were sublime. BTW, my cake only took 1/2 hour to bake so I'm glad I was watching it closely. My oven must run hot.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. May 16, 2019
Love that you made the recipe your own and so happy you enjoyed the results!
 
Bryant M. May 15, 2019
I loved this cake! It was simple to make — the hardest part was getting the pecans to a sand texture but not a butter. The texture is dense, and the flavors are reminiscent of pecan pie and a breakfast-style cake. 10/10 would make again.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. May 16, 2019
So glad you enjoyed, Bryant!
 
devendra December 1, 2020
same difficulty here, but stopping before it reached a "sandy" texture did no harm. It was even beginning to go "butter" a bit, but again no harm. It did require incorporating the whites with just a small amount at first just to lighten the heaviness of the ground pecans, but once that was done it was smooth sailing.
Mine did not survive long enough to reach the fridge, was cut and eaten warm, but was not at all crumbly as the recipe warns. Some called it the best cake of the holiday season. Never told them how simple it was.
 
devendra December 1, 2020
I'll add that the amount of whipped whites seemed like a lot to incorporate at fist, but it did go in. I beat them to soft peaks since that's how i do my go-to flourless CC. Also added a pinch of cardomom. LOVED it.
 
Michelle D. May 12, 2019
Has anyone toasted the nuts before grinding? The ones I have are rich and buttery but have less flavor than they usually do and I don't want to end up with a bland cake.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. May 14, 2019
Hi Michelle! I decided not to toast the pecans here for a couple reasons: This cake is based on a walnut cake I love and, in that recipe, the walnuts are raw. Because there's no flour here (just ground nuts), the nuts on the outside get pretty toasted by the end; I worry that if they start out toasted to begin with, the crust might taste burnt by the time the cake is done baking. But if you give it a go, please report back!
 
Lacy L. May 12, 2019
I should have asked this before making the cake, planned for this afternoon, but I bought pecan flour on Amazon and what is the conversion from 3/4 pound of pecans to cups of pecan flour?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. May 14, 2019
Hi Lacy! The weight should be the same (3/4 pound), though I'm unfortunately not sure what the volume would be. (The package might have a volume-weight conversion that could help translate with that.)
 
W J. June 20, 2019
You should use a kitchen scale, not a volume measure. Your question is about the bulk density (weight/volume), which changes drastically as you grind the pieces smaller and smaller. The bulk density of whole nut halves is comparatively low (bulky), but when ground, it will be much higher (denser) as the tiny pieces fit more closely together. This is why bakers bake by weight not volume as many recipes depend on having ratios of ingredients to be as specified. If you are interested in consistent and predictable results, always use weight instead of volume measurements!
 
Lacy L. June 20, 2019
I finally made the Pecan cake with the pecan flour instead of grinding my own. The weight of the bag from Amazon was exactly what is specified in the recipe, and it was DELICIOUS! Saved my lazy self from roasting and grinding. Also saved this recipe for a quick, tasty desert.
 
Raphaelle C. May 11, 2019
As someone who loves pecans, I was looking forward to this one, but it’s really just okay. I think using raw (rather than toasted) pecans diluted their flavor. I wouldn’t bother making it again.
 
Terri May 10, 2019
This brings back such happy memories of my Sicilian grandma. Many a torta would come out of her oven and the scent of the nuts baking could drive you ravenous. So rich and dense it serves more people than you think. I’d serve it in thin slices with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream or a dollop of fresh lemon cream. Grandma however, dusted it with enough powdered sugar to cause an asthma attack. Thanks for the recipe. It reminds me I need to make this memory!
 
Janet K. May 10, 2019
I was thinking this would be a good dessert for Passover! I just did a flourless chocolate cake but I really had wanted to do something with nuts.
 
tina April 28, 2019
would almond flour work instead of the pecans??
 
Author Comment
Emma L. April 29, 2019
Hi Tina—I think so! Though I can't say for sure, since I haven't tried that substitution myself with this recipe. If you give it a try, would love to hear how it goes!
 
Lisa May 10, 2019
There are many similar recipes using finely ground almond flour.
 
kittykatofdoom April 28, 2019
This was both easy and delicious!
 
Lindi April 27, 2019
I made exactly as you have laid out and oh my gosh, decadent, sweet and amazing. I am not really a sweet person but can I say magnificent, it is not a cake you eat everyday so why do people complain about sugar content, guys it's an occasional cake.... Thankyou for sharing 🐝🐝🐝🐝🐝🐝🤩🤩🤩😘😘😘😘😘😘
 
Joyce April 24, 2019
Sounds wonderful. Do you think honey would work in place of the sugar? One cup of sugar also seems like a lot?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. April 25, 2019
Hi Joyce! If you want, you can try 3/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup honey, or even 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup honey. But I wouldn't change it much more than that on a first try, since it's hard to say how reducing the sugar will affect the end result.
 
Joyce April 25, 2019
Thank you Emma. I will give it a go and let you know results!
 
Dee April 26, 2019
Joyce, honey is a heavy, thick liquid which would make an already rich cake too moist & dense. Honey is sugar too, sometimes having more carbs per serving than sugar. It’s ok to use 1/4cup baking Stevia, a calorie-free natural sweetener, & 1/2 cup light brown sugar; it should have the carmalization that brown sugar & butter provide the pecan meal. Or, try 1/2 c Stevia & 1/4 c brown sugar, but you won’t get the richness & carmalization.
 
Joyce April 26, 2019
Dee, appreciate you taking the time to share your expertise/ insight. Thank you!
 
Michelle D. May 12, 2019
I may be a little late with this advice, but I regularly make a similar cake with almond flour and significantly reduce the sugar with no substitution and no ill effects. I just like the flavor of desserts better when they aren't overpoweringly sweet, as I find most recipes to be. Things can dry out more easily with less sugar, so watch baking times
 
Kathleen B. June 20, 2019
I would love to have your recipe!