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. 


  1. Dear Monica, I don't remember how I stumbled on your blog, but signed up for email delivery and .. it works:) Always enjoy your posts and recipes.

  2. Yes! I get your e-mails, and I also have fond and not-so-fond memories of picking up black walnuts and hacking them open to find the special nutmeat inside. We would spread them out on our garage floor and drive over them with the garden tractor to remove the thick green rind. This cake looks delicious! See if I can round up some black walnuts somewhere.

    1. Thanks, Rose. We also use the highly sophisticated and very effective drive-over method for removing the rind. More often when I pick them up, it's not to collect them but to throw them over the fence so they're out of our way.

  3. Hi Monica, I receive your posts via email.
    The cake looks delicious.

  4. I do get a notification on my email when you post.

  5. Yes, I receive and enjoy your posts by e-mail. In fact today's came with larger, darker print which I enjoyed. Your cake looks wonderful but we are a diabetic household so I haven't baked a cake in years.

    1. Thanks, grammyscraps. I am trying to use a larger and darker print for the benefit of my readers and myself. It's good to know that is working too.

  6. Yes, I do subscribe to your blog to receive notifications by email, and yes, it is working quite well!

    Meanwhile, my mind is totally boggled about your decision to write about black walnuts just now, because - I think it was yesterday, but I can't remember, for the life of me, what prompted me to do it - I somehow ended up reading an old posting you did when your blog was still called "The Mennobrarian". That article was about black walnuts, your amazing-looking cake, the hulling process, etc. That article had originally prompted me to add comments about my own black walnut experiences. It just seems - well - NUTS! - that I [was it randomly ?!] ended up on that post yesterday (or the day before), and then this morning, woke up and found this new article waiting for me in my email box! Is this the Twilight Zone, or have I taken too large a dose of my allergy medication?

    In addition, I also remember making a black walnut cake (it was back in December 2005 - that I remember because it's in my Christmas Even Menu notes from that year), with the walnuts from my nut-cracking adventures. My cake looked a lot like yours. Now I'm trying to remember where I got my recipe. I can see (in my mind) the picture in the recipe book, but can't remember which book it is in. Getting old is a scary and dangerous thing... I think a big slice of your cake would make me forget my troubles!

    1. BATMom! Ten years ago you gave me a wonderful recipe for a coconut cream cake with creamed cheese and walnut frosting. I made it and used black walnuts in the frosting. That cake was so good! Alas, I am the only one in my house who likes coconut so I cannot make it so I'm on coconut sabbatical.
      Also, yes, years ago I wrote a post about the process of collecting, hulling, and cracking the walnuts. I'm pretty sure it's still on this blog and once in a great while I'll still get a comment asking about the process.
      I wish I could send over a piece of this cake to you.

  7. Thank you everyone, I had concerns that the e-mail subscribe feature didn't work but those fears are now laid to rest.

  8. I don’t subscribe to email notifications , just check the blogs, though I have been online less of late.
    I chuckled over your title- farmette to table! That cake looks so good. I love black walnuts and must make it. I can usually find them at a good price at the farms around here.

    1. Hey, we have farm to table, so why not? :) When I bake with black walnuts I like to give some of it away to people who have never tried them before and they always like them too.

  9. First time here, I clicked on your link in a blogroll, and started reading your posts. This one took me back, my grandfather used to point out black walnut trees to us on a walk we would take. I never tried them but am intrigued. That cake looks wonderful.

    1. Thanks Mary, this is one of my favorite cakes and I hoard my black walnuts for special occasions. Black walnuts are so precious that if I'm going to make something I try to go big! I love hearing that it triggered and fond memory for you. Thank you for sharing that.

  10. I'm so happy to find this recipe! Every year Grandpa would gather up bushel baskets full of black walnuts, and after they dried up so he could shell them, we would spend hours together in the kitchen working on them. He would crack them open on a cinder block he held between his knees, and it was my job to get the meats out and store them in the jars that Grandma would give me. Afterwards, she would bake wonderful treats like black walnut bread, cookies, or this amazing cake. Sadly, the recipe was lost, but thanks to you, I have it again+

    1. I'm so glad to hear this! There are a lot of excellent black walnut cake recipes but I find this one to be the best. Black walnuts are a lot of work but definitely worth it.


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