I used to eschew sponge cakes. I have never been particularly interested in making a classic Victoria sponge; the iced party versions take too much time and artistic talent; and I don’t have a lot of patience for the imbalance of cupcakes. If I am to offer a dessert, I prefer to go for a nice tart, or something that requires custard.
I know a lot of my friends would disagree with me. And I recognise that the popularity of the cake is on the rise, judging by the plethora of baking shows, those about outlandishly decorated 6 feet tall cakes, and cupcakes there seems to be on the TV, these days. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Great British Bake Off almost as much as Mel Geidroyc, but there is an awful lot of baking going on our screens, of varying quality and value.
However, last weekend, the weather took a real turn for the colder. This is the time of year when I long to curl up in the living room with a cup of tea, and a nice slice of cake. The fact that I had a little bit of a hangover after catching up with a few friends on Friday had nothing at all to do with it…
So, after a little indecision, and a rootle around the cupboard to see what I could make without actually having to go to the shops (and a little discussion with the Big Guy to see if he would be prepared to go, which ended in a compromise – not a massive shop, but he would go out for some mascarpone!), I came up trumps with a bag of walnuts. That pretty much settled it – coffee and walnut cake it was then. With a mascarpone glaze; given that I am not too keen on buttercream, and felt it would have been too much for me that day (which had everything to do with my Friday night).
The cake that I made (as pictured) was a little bigger than I had anticipated, because I totally forgot that the amount of cake mixture that I give in the recipe is supposed to be split between two cake tins, and I didn’t want to cut it in half when it came out of the oven, fearing that my hand was not the steadiest. So I made another cake of the same size. I have 25 cm cake tins, this baby was huge! It also meant that the mascarpone glaze was not as generous as it should have been, so don’t do this. The base also got a little bit more coffee in it than the top, so they are sightly different shades.
Don’t worry though, the amount given below is for one normal-sized cake, not a giant one like this one.
Despite all this, what you get is a lovely moist cake, but with all the lightness of a sponge. Brilliant comfort when the weather draws in, and also a great hangover cure. Take one slice in the evening with a big mug of tea.
Recipe: Coffee and Walnut Cake
For the cake:
175 g caster sugar – I used raw cane sugar, to give it a depth of colour and flavour
175 g softened butter (i.e. not from straight out of the fridge, bring it up to room temperature
175 g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp coffee granules in 1 tbsp warm water (or 1 tbsp warm, strong espresso if you don’t have instant)
2 x 20 cm cake tins – you’ll need a removable base on each. I have spring-form tins, which is better, but use what you have
60 g chopped walnuts
For the glaze:
250 g Mascarpone
70 g icing sugar
1 tsp coffee granules in 1 tbsp warm water (or another tbsp warm, strong espresso)
Some more chopped walnuts. Or you can keep them whole and decorate the cake with them, but I am not hugely keen on big lumps of walnuts. I had about 8 walnuts left, so I used them, but the amount is up to your individual taste
Firstly, line the base of your cake tins with some greaseproof paper. Cut it to size, unless you like the wrinkled cake look. I also then greased and floured the sides of my tins. I do this because my mum always did, and it is ingrained in my psyche, although I think that it is probably unnecessary in this non-stick age. You will be really glad of the greaseproof when it comes time to turn the cake out, however.
Heat your oven to 180°C
Beat the sugar and butter together until it has gone a very pale colour. Don’t scrimp on this stage, it helps with the final lightness of the cake. It is best done with a food mixer, or an electric hand blender if you have one. It is possible with a wooden spoon, but you will end up looking like Brian Shaw, which is a good look if you like very muscular men. It will also take you ages. I had neither the time nor the patience for this on Saturday.
Once you have a nice pale butter and sugar mixture, add the eggs. I usually add a little of the flour with each egg and make sure that I have mixed it in well before adding the next egg. Don’t add all the eggs at once, or the batter may split. They always say this in cookbooks and on the TV. I am not sure what you should do if the batter does split, because it has never happened to me, but I assume that it will affect the rise and texture. I also have no idea if you can salvage it.
Once all of the egg is added, fold in the rest of the flour, and the baking powder. Be careful not to overwork it, or the cake won’t rise as much, but also make sure that there are no seams of flour that haven’t been mixed in.
Add the coffee solution and continue to fold until the batter has an even coffee colour, then stir in the walnuts. This should take about 15 minutes in total, unless you are going for the bodybuilder look. Divide the cake between the two tins, and put them into the oven for about 25 minutes, but check them after 20. If a thin item like a small-bladed knife comes out of the centre clean, then they are done. If it looks sticky, they need a few more minutes.
Tip them out of their tins, remove the greaseproof paper, and leave them to cool on a cooling rack, flat side down.
Make up the glaze by mixing all of the ingredients together until they are all thoroughly combined. You will need to chop the walnuts fairly fine before you add them. Don’t refrigerate this, because it will be too hard to spread later.
When the cake has cooled down completely, you can ice it. If you do it while the cake is still warm, it will melt, and will be difficult to work with.
If you are using a flat surface to serve the cake, you will need to cut the arc of one of the cakes off, to allow it to lie flat on the board, and for the other cake to lie flat on it. I was being lazy, and I have plates that have roughly the same curve as one of my cakes in any case. I just flipped it over, laid the arc side down on the plate, and worked with the flat side for my icing. If the bottom cake wobbles, cut it flat anyway.
Use about a third of the glaze to spread over your bottom cake. Get it in as even a layer as you can. Place the second cake on top of this, flat side down. Then glaze the top and as much of the sides of the cake as you can with the rest of the mascarpone mixture.You can decorate it with walnuts if you are that way inclined.
Then you will need to get the kettle on for that tea!