Marcella Hazan’s Walnut Cake

Hazan's walnut cake

Hazan’s walnut cake

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.

butter and sugar creamed

butter and sugar creamed

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.

ground walnuts

ground walnuts

batter and walnuts

batter and walnuts

The batter is dense and a bit stiff. You need to press it into the greased and lightly floured pan.

walnut batter

walnut batter

It bakes up dense and chewy and richly dark.

baked walnut cake

baked walnut cake

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 cake w vanilla icing

walnut cake w vanilla icing

Walnut-Orange Cake w Vanilla Glaze

1 stick unsalted butter, room temp, plus more for the pan

2/3 cup sugar

1 egg

2 tablespoons rum

1/2 teaspoon orange extract

zest from 1 large orange

1 cup flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch salt

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.

Vanilla Glaze:

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.

What I Buy at Trader Joe’s – Part 2

Oh, this list can go on forever, but I’ll try to fill in the blanks little by little, each time with a new list of goodies. I have fun at Trader Joe’s. I have fun at supermarkets period. At farmer’s markets. At Costco. At foreign supermarkets, outdoor markets, little food stores. Seeing food on display, deciding what you want, imagining recipes, discovering new products, sampling, happy to see the season’s new crops…I love all of that. It’s my idea of a good time.

New List of My Trader Joe’s Favs:

Fresh Artichokes – 4 medium artichokes to a pack – cheap money

Fresh Artichokes at Trader Joe's

Fresh Artichokes at Trader Joe’s

I am an artichoke junkie. I love the Italian word for artichokes: carciofi. Finding fresh ones, consistently, that aren’t the size of tractor trailers, that are human-sized, that you can cook up in the many ways I love to cook them (here’s one recipe), is sometimes the equivalent of obtaining the Holy Grail (yes, I exaggerate). But these are gold-like to me. And TJ’s is the only place where the packages are stacked high and easy to buy. I grew up eating them “Italian-style” then shared an apartment on LI with a California friend (hello, Castroville, CA, American capital of artichoke growing) and learned her way of eating them and then we came up with a recipe we both adored: boil or steam them till the heart is tender. Make a dip of mayo, lemon juice and soy sauce. Umami-central.

Olives (Picholine)

Trader Joe's Picholine Olives

Trader Joe’s Picholine Olives

Trader Joe’s has 3 different olives that I love. Picholine is one of them. Perfect acidity, soft but al dente, goes with ANYTHING. My other favs are their pitted Kalamata and the green Jaques Lucques olives–oh, yum.

Red Argentinian Shrimp

Trader Joe's Argentine Shrimp

Trader Joe’s Argentinian Shrimp

These are in the freezer section. Raw, shelled. And are not always available. They SELL OUT. Something unusual about this shrimp. They are pink while raw, and they are soft when cooked. It’s an odd, pleasant, and luxurious sensation to bite into one, like you’ve been invited to the high gourmand table.

Trader Joe’s Italian Shelled Fava Beans

Trader Joe's Frozen Fava Beans

Trader Joe’s Frozen Fava Beans

This product is a boon to mankind. How often do you run across fresh fava beans? I do, sometimes. Sometimes in the regular supermarket. More often in the Asian market. But not always. THESE are out of their pods, but still in their individual shells. I just discovered them in TJ’s freezer section last month. LOVE. I give them a quick blanche, then peel each shell away to reveal that startling green lovely, so lovely, fava bean. My fav recipe: Sauté some sliced onion and diced pancetta in some olive oil. Add beans, add a bit of wine. Cook for just 5 minutes or so (TJ’s are young beans, so don’t need to cook too long). Add some salt. LOVE this.

Walnuts, Halves & Pieces

Trader Joe's Walnuts Halves & Pieces

Trader Joe’s Walnuts Halves & Pieces

So when I usually buy walnuts they are whole. Supposedly, that’s preferred. If you’re snacking on them I’m sure that whole is more satisfying. But if you’re cooking, I end up breaking them between my fingers (since on a board with a knife they tend to have a flight life all their own). Trader Joe’s sells them broken. TJ’s nut department– no, not the employees — nor the shoppers — but the nuts as in walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, cashews, peanuts, almonds is EXTENSIVE. It’s a pleasure just to peruse the shelves and marvel at the variety. Yes, you can get whole walnuts, but I like these broken ones…ready to go. Same with pecans, whole or broken, candied or salted, raw or roasted. And the list goes on…leaving an irresistible trail for you to follow …nibbling all the way.

Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

Trader Joe's Cocoa Powder

Trader Joe’s Cocoa Powder

I love this package. And I love this cocoa. What more could you want?

Blood Oranges (when they have them)

Trader Joe's Blood Oranges

Trader Joe’s Blood Oranges

I almost fainted when I saw this bag of blood oranges at Trader Joe’s this past January. They’re a rare commodity. They aren’t there now. But you never know. And that’s the thing about Trader Joe’s. They come up with seasonal stuff. (Like a 2-foot branch of Brussels sprouts. And their burnt-around-the edges-but yummy matzoh crackers only in around Passover.) And then it’s gone. Grab it when you can. These blood oranges are so delicious, not as sweet as “orange” oranges, but the tartness elevates the flavor. They’re so pretty and remind me of my student days in Rome. My other fav TJ’s orange is the Cara Cara.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for Part 3. Because there’s always something cool to get at TJ’s. Don’t be shy about trying stuff. You will likely not go wrong. (They ain’t paying me for this.) (Maybe they should!) 🙂

TJ's Blood Oranges

TJ’s Blood Oranges