Walnut cake with American frosting is so worth the effort, with a rich cake sandwiched with vanilla buttercream and covered all over with American frosting
- 200g (7oz) plain flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1 generous tsp baking powder
- 100g (3½ oz) butter, softened
- 225g (8oz) caster sugar
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- 2 eggs, separated
- 100g (3½ oz) shelled walnuts, roughly chopped
- 100ml (3½ fl oz) milk
- For the vanilla buttercream filling:
- 75g (3oz) butter, softened
- 125g (4½ oz) icing sugar, sifted
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- Rose petals or 8 walnut halves, to decorate
- 2 x 20cm (8in) diameter or three 18cm (7in) diameter sandwich tins
- For the American frosting:
- Makes 600ml (1 pint)
- 2 egg whites
- 425g (15oz) caster or granulated sugar
- 100ml (3½ fl oz) water
Preheat the oven to 180C, gas mark 4. Brush the cake tins with melted butter and dust with flour. Line the base of each with a round of greaseproof or parchment paper.
Sift the flour with the salt and baking powder. Cream the butter in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer until soft. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks and then stir in the chopped walnuts. Fold in a quarter of the flour and milk into the mixture, alternating each, until they are incorporated.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff. Stir a quarter into the cake mixture and then gently fold in the rest. Divide between the tins, making a slight hollow in the centre of each so that the cake rises evenly rather than forming a peak.
Bake in the oven for about 16-20 mins until firm to the touch or until a skewer inserted into the centre of each cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.
Meanwhile, make the buttercream filling. Cream the butter until very soft, then beat in the icing sugar and the vanilla extract. When the cake is cold, sandwich the layers together with the filling.
Now, make the American frosting. This delicious soft icing is a little tricky to make, so follow the instructions exactly. Quick and accurate decisions are necessary in judging when the icing is ready and then it must be applied to the cake immediately. If the icing is not cooked enough, it will still taste good, but will not dry out properly on the outside. If cooked too much, it will be difficult to spread over the cake.
Ensure your cake is ready before you start, as this icing begins to set very quickly. Bring to the boil a saucepan of water large enough to hold a heatproof bowl. Place the egg whites in the bowl and whisk with a hand-held electric beater until very stiff.
In a separate saucepan over a medium-high heat, dissolve the sugar in the water and boil for 5-10 mins until the liquid is thick and syrupy and has reached the ‘thread’ stage – when the last few drops that fall from a metal spoon dipped into the syrup come off in one long, quite thick and syrupy thread.
Pour the boiling syrup over the stiffly beaten egg whites, whisking all the time with the hand-held beater. Place the bowl in the saucepan of simmering water. Continue to whisk over the water for 10-15 mins until the icing is snow white, very thick and meringue-like.
Spread the icing quickly over the cake with a palette knife, regularly dipping the knife into a jug of boiling water. The icing sets very quickly at this stage, so speed is essential.
Scatter with rose petals, if using, or arrange the walnut halves around the top of the cake, and allow the icing to set until it feels dry on the surface. Sparklers and dark rose petals make for a dramatic and beautiful effect.
Top tip for making Rachel Allen’s walnut cake with American frosting
Make sure that the walnuts you use for this cake are fresh. Any leftover walnuts will keep best in the freezer. Like many cakes which contain nuts, this cake keeps very well for a couple of weeks if properly stored.