Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Farmette to Table: Black Walnut Cake

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     Do you ever wish that you were not called to do certain things? For months I have been working on a church project helping to move relief supplies to Puerto Rico. If that sounds at all satisfying, let me assure you it is a lot of unreturned phone calls, declining enthusiasm, and days spent wondering who else might be able to use bottled water and hygiene supplies. Yet, I add it fresh and new to my to-do list every week.

     Then there is my dog rescue

mission. Even fewer people will thank you for that. We just took in Peanut, an adorable five-year-old Dachshund who, in all his untrained glory, is here to slay us with his cuteness. 

     It had been years since we had done anything with the black walnuts that seem to take over every bit of our ground in the late fall. The large green orbs are a nuisance when it is warm enough that the grass still requires mowing and litter our playground area. Frankly, they are somewhat inconvenient when it comes to just plain walking unless you think that walking on grass with oversized golf balls would be your thing. Yet, I sometimes feel guilty letting them go to waste because black walnuts are somewhat of a luxury. You can't find them in most stores and they are prohibitively expensive by the pound. We don't take advantage of our free bounty nearly enough. The rich, sweetly unique taste of a black walnut is unlike any other flavors. In their own way, they call to me. 

     When Little Mister heard the call and took an interest in doing a black walnut harvest, I thought now would be as good a year as any to teach him. I had a few reservations about how much time and attention he would want to devote to such an arduous task. It is grueling work to break off the tough green husks and clean the walnut shells. If you make it that far, your reward is waiting a few months for the nuts to cure. If all goes well, they won't mold and you can start cracking in the dead of winter. Separating the nut from the meat requires precision and brawn. We have a special nutcracker for these nuts, but it requires the strength of a man to operate. However, this makes it a nice family activity. Everyone can get involved in some process of harvesting black walnuts.

     I've read how generations ago, farm families would use corn shellers to take off the husk, so I've been walking around with "corn sheller" written on my shopping list for a year or so now. Who else has that on their list? 

Also shown: Gorgeous crystal cake stand I got as a wedding gift and never use. 
     Personally, my favorite part of the process is baking them for a rare treat. This time I created a layer cake with cream cheese icing. The cake itself was based on a recipe from the Simply In Season Cookbook.(Amazon affiliate link) I made a cream cheese icing and added a generous sprinkle of nuts to the very top. That last sprinkle was a nice garnish but not really necessary. You could easily make this cake using black walnut flavoring instead of the actual nuts. That's right, you don't even need real black walnuts to enjoy the flavor of a black walnut cake. Though, if you can find some at a reasonable price, it's worth the purchase.

    We came this far and still had no idea if Little Mister would even like the flavor of black walnuts. It occurred to me that after all of the work leading up to this cake, it would be a bit like jumping through hoops of fire to take a child to Disney only to find out he's scared of people dressed in character costumes. Unlikely, I know, but there's always that risk with something new.

     Alas, the disappearance of this cake is a testament to how well it was received by all who tasted it. 

Black Walnut Cake
Serves 12

2 and 1/4 cups flour

1 and 1/2 cups sugar
3 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Blend together in a large bowl.

1 cup milk
1/2 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add and beat with an electric mixer for two minutes.

4 egg whites

Add and beat with a mixer for two more minutes. 

1 cup black walnuts, chopped

Fold in black walnuts. Pour into two greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 for 35-40 minutes. Allow cake to cool completely before frosting.


2 packages of cream cheese (One 8 ounces and the other 3 ounces, for a total of 11 ounces)

3/4 cup butter, softened
5 cups confectioner's sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Optional: 1/4 cup black walnuts, chopped, for sprinkling

Beat cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl. Add sugar. Mix well. Add vanilla. Beat until smooth. Spread between layers of cake and over sides and top. Sprinkle with additional black walnuts. Store in the refrigerator. 


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