I once met Marcella Hazan at a book signing in NYC. She was with her husband Victor Hazan. I was a loyal fan of Marcella and also a fan of Victor Hazan’s book on Italian wines.
Marcella was signing her new book, Marcella Cucina, for a long line of book buyers. I already had a 2-volume paperback copy of Marcella’s The Classic Italian Cookbook, a wonderful guide to classic Italian cooking with lots of regional specialties you can’t find in other books. Her recipes were appetizing, reliable, enlightening, and tasty. Those books spent a lot of time in my kitchen.
I told Marcella, as she signed her new book for me, that I cooked with her often in my kitchen. She looked at me with a smirk and said, “Really? Am I any good?” The comment threw me. I said Yes, of course. She had no reply, handed me my book and I moved on to make way for the next person in line. What was that all about? I couldn’t figure it out. But it made me (unconsciously) put aside her books for years.
Until recently. Once again, thumbing thru the pages of The Classic Italian Cookbook, I was drawn to so many recipes. And this walnut cake is one of them.
I tweaked it some from her original recipe. Switched out the lemon zest for orange zest. Shortened the baking time by 10 minutes. Added orange extract and a vanilla icing swirled over the top of the cake.
The cake has more walnuts in it than batter. I used a nut grinder to get large walnut crumbs with some small walnuts chunks.
The batter is dense and a bit stiff. You need to press it into the greased and lightly floured pan.
It bakes up dense and chewy and richly dark.
It’s not too sweet and makes me think it would make a great breakfast cake. But I opted to add a sweet vanilla glaze on top. The combination of cake and icing is way too irresistible and, therefore, don’t expect this cake to be around for more than a day. Chew, chew, yum, yum.
Walnut-Orange Cake w Vanilla Glaze
1 stick unsalted butter, room temp, plus more for the pan
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons rum
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
zest from 1 large orange
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups shelled walnuts, minced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat the butter and sugar together in a hand or stand mixer until creamy and smooth. Add the egg, rum, and extract. Beat well to combine. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix until just combined. Stir in the walnuts.
Butter a 9-inch spring-form pan and place a circle of parchment at the bottom. Butter parchment circle and dust pan with flour, tapping out excess. Spoon in the batter and press batter to evenly fill pan. Bake for about 50 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool slightly, then while cake is still warm run a knife along the edges where it touches pan and remove the sides of the pan. Let cake cool completely before icing the top.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
5-6 tablespoons very hot water, as needed
Smooth the butter in a medium mixing bowl. Add the sugar and vanilla and mix together with butter using a spoon. Drizzle a little hot water on the mixture and stir vigorously to make the icing into a not-too-thick, not-too-thin consistency. If too thin add more sugar. Too thick add more hot water.