Walnut cake with maple hard sauce

I never would have come up with this recipe if 1) some lovely walnut folks hadn’t sent me five pounds of fresh walnuts in the mail and 2) I hadn’t just gotten back from Quebec City.

I had walnuts to use and maple on the brain.

Walnut cake

While not health food, there isn’t much refined nonsense in this cake. It is part very moist nut torta and part cake-like date sticky pudding. Top is with whatever you want – ice cream, whipped cream, or, if you serve the cake warm, hard sauce or even maple hard sauce (see below). It would be a lovely change from all that Thanksgiving pie, you know?

1 1/2 cups walnuts

1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

12 pitted fresh dates

1 egg

3/4 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 cup walnut oil

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325. Spray a 10-inch cake pan (spring form is nice here) with oil, line the bottom with parchment paper, and spray the paper with oil.  You can also rub the pan/paper with oil if you don’t like the spray stuff.

Spread walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven until just starting to color, about 10 minutes but watch them carefully and take them out early rather than risk burning them. Seriously, walnuts will burn while you take a moment to blink your eyes. Let walnuts cool before going to the next step.

In a food processor, pulse the flour, walnuts, baking soda, and salt until walnuts are fairly well pulverized. Transfer to a large bowl.

Pulse dates, egg, maple syrup, walnut oil, vinegar, and vanilla in the food processor until dates are chopped. Whirl until the mixture is puréed. Pour into flour mixture and stir to just combine. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out almost clean – a few bits clinging to it are fine.

Let cake sit at least 10 minutes before you take it out of the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Maple hard sauce

Cream 1/2 cup butter and 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Add 1/4 cup maple syrup and 2 – 3 tablespoons whiskey or brandy. The addition of the liquid will make the lovely fluffiness you’ve made fall apart and separate and look a bit nasty. Keep beating it, it will all come together again, more or less. You can leave the maple syrup out for plain hard sauce (add another 1/4 cup sugar), or the whiskey/brandy out for just some maple-tinged yumminess that would also be good on a warm cake or, really, pretty much anything.