Cara Eisenpress blogs at Big Girls, Small Kitchen and edits at Small Kitchen College, a new site for undergrad foodies. She’s a freelance food writer and the co-author of In the Small Kitchen. You can follow Cara and Big Girls, Small Kitchen on Twitter (@BGSK) and on Facebook.
The truth about Passover cakes is that — well, they’re usually not very pretty. When you replace versatile white flour with anything — be it millet flour or matzoh meal — you can run into some, er, textural issues with your baked goods. They come out dry, heavy, and have funny aftertastes.
The best approach to leavening-free desserts involves focusing on favorites (like matzoh crunch) that never contained any flour to begin with! And it is from a non-Passover source that my recipe for walnut cake takes inspiration.
When you make walnut cake, you don’t have to substitute any weird flour mixes or alter any proportions. All you do is beat several eggs — yolks and whites separately — and throw in a couple cups of sugar and loads of ground, toasted nuts. The cake that emerges from the oven is not dry, it’s not heavy, and it doesn’t have a funny aftertaste.
The chocolate whipped cream I pile on top could honestly disguise any weird Passover cake. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to prove itself — it’s just a rich and decadent extra that makes the nutty dessert that much more worthy of your post-brisket stomach space.
Walnut Passover Cake with Chocolate Whipped Cream
Makes one 9-inch cake.
If you make this with the cream, it isn’t parve, but I don’t know if you care. And I’ve heard that kosher cream of tartar exists. If you don’t find that, just omit it altogether and be extra careful not to overbeat the whites.
For the cake:
2 ¾ cups walnuts, toasted
½ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
7 eggs, separated
¾ teaspoon cream of tartar (optional; if keeping kosher for Passover, you can omit)
For the cream:
½ cup whipped cream
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons good-quality cocoa powder, sifted
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom of a 9-inch round springform cake pan, then cut a circle of parchment paper to fit over the greased bottom. Don’t grease the sides.
Toast the walnuts on a baking sheet for 5-7 minutes, stirring once. They should be fragrant and taste toasty. Let them cool to room temperature, then put them in a food processor with the brown sugar. Grind for just a few pulses, until the nuts are fine but not oily. Set aside.
Put the egg yolks and the 1/2 cup white sugar in a medium mixing bowl and beat them with a handheld mixer for about 5 minutes, until the yolks have lightened in color and are thick and fluffy. Fold the ground walnuts and the cocoa powder into this mixture.
Rinse the beaters really well and dry them thoroughly.
In another mixing bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar if using with the clean beaters until the whites form soft peaks when the whisk is raised.
Add about one-quarter of the egg whites to the walnut-yolk mixture and fold to combine. In three parts, add the remaining egg whites, folding gently but thoroughly. You want the whites to be completely incorporated, with no streaks left.
Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cake is springy to the touch and no longer jiggly. Remove from the oven and invert the cake immediately on a lightly greased rack. Let it sit until cool to the touch, about 35 minutes. Run an offset spatula or butter knife around the edges, then loosen the pan and invert the cake onto a baking sheet. Remove the pan bottom and the parchment, and let the cake cool completely.
You can make the cake in advance and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Keep it in the refrigerator if you’ve made it more than a few hours in advance.
When ready to serve, make the whipped cream. Combine the cream with the confectioners’ sugar and the cocoa powder. Beat to incorporate the cocoa and continue to beat until the cream is thickened and forms a soft peak when you lift the beater.
Scoop onto the top of the cake and sprinkle with more cocoa powder. You can also serve the cream on the side.