Could this year get any more surreal?
At a time when life seems more chaotic than ever and more inconceivable by the second, that’s when we need to pause, take a deep breath, close our eyes — and have a piece of cake.
Yes, times like this call for equal measures of comfort, sweetness, and escape.
Cake does all of that.
Not one dressed to the nines in layers, swirls, swooshes, and a flourish of doodads.
But a simple one that’s honest and straightforward — characteristics we sadly seem to be in short supply of these days.
“Walnut-Crusted Oat Flour Genoise” embodies all of that. It’s just one layer. It’s baked in one pan. It doesn’t even require frosting. It’s also gluten-free — but doesn’t taste like it, if you get my drift.
The recipe is by Alice Medrich, a treasured Bay Area baker. Originally printed in her cookbook, “Gluten-Free Flavor Flours: A New Way to Bake with Non-Wheat Flours, Including Rice, Nut, Coconut, Teff, Buckwheat, and Sorghum Flours” (Artisan, 2017), it was adapted by Food52. I further adopted it, as it was originally printed using pecans. Instead, I used walnuts, which was a suggested substitution. Feel free to use either of those nuts you happen to have on hand.
The genius part comes when preparing the baking pan. You grease the round cake pan, all right, but with softened butter mixed with brown sugar. Then, using your fingers, you press finely chopped walnuts onto the bottom and sides of the pan right into the butter-brown sugar mixture.
Then, you pour in the batter, which comes together speedily as it’s a simple mixture of oat flour, sugar, eggs, and browned butter.
As the cake bakes, the nut mixture forms almost a thin veil of streusel on the top and sides.
The light, delicate-crumbed cake, itself, is not overly sweet, but the butter-brown sugar-nut mixture baked onto the exterior of the cake adds a little more sweetness plus a wonderful subtle crunchiness. The oat flour heightens the toasty taste of this cake.
It’s not a flashy cake by any means. It just satisfies serenely — a feeling that we could all do with a lot more of these days.
Walnut-Crusted Oat Flour Genoise
(Makes one 9-inch cake)
2 tablespoons (30 grams) softened butter
3 tablespoons (38 grams) brown sugar (it’s fine to use ordinary brown sugar — dark is more flavorful than light. If you want to go all out, use a real raw sugar such as light muscovado sugar. Big wow.)
1 cup (100 grams) walnuts or pecans, chopped medium fine
4 tablespoons (55 grams) unsalted butter
1 cup (100 grams) oat flour
2/3 cup (130 grams) sugar, divided
4 large eggs, cold
Generous 1/8 teaspoons salt
Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350° F.
Mix the softened butter with the brown sugar and spread it evenly over the bottom, and about 3/4 of the way up, the sides of a 9-by-2-inch round cake pan. Coat the bottom and sides of the pan with the nuts; use your fingers as necessary to stick the nuts to the sides of the pan. Set aside.
Cut the butter in chunks and put in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan near the stove. Put the fine strainer and a 4 to 6 cup bowl nearby for later — the bowl needs to be big enough to hold the butter and accomodate some of the batter.
In another medium bowl, whisk the oat flour with 25 grams (2 tablespoons) of the sugar.
Put the remaining sugar, eggs, and salt in the mixer bowl fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip the mixture on high speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the mixture is tripled in volume and forms a slowly dissolving ribbon when the beater is lifted.
While the eggs are beating, brown the butter: Cook the butter over medium heat until it is melted and bubbling. Continue to cook, whisking gently until the butter is golden brown and the milk particles suspended in it are a bit darker. Immediately strain the butter into the bowl you’ve set aside.
As soon as the egg mixture is whipped, remove the bowl from the mixer. Sift 1/3 of the oat flour mixture over the eggs. Fold until the flour in almost blended. Repeat with half of the remaining flour. Repeat with the rest of the flour, folding until all of the flour is blended.
Scrape about 1/4 of the batter over the hot butter. Fold until the butter is completely blended into the batter. Then scrape this buttery batter over the remaining batter and fold just until blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and springy on top and barely beginning to shrink from the sides of the pan.
Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes. Slide a slim spatula around the sides of the cake and unmold it onto a rack. Immediately turn the cake right side-up and place it on another rack to finish cooling.
Serve the cake right side-up or nutty side-up, whichever looks better to you. Either way, you can sift a tiny bit of powdered sugar on top. Or not.
Adapted from an Alice Medrich recipe that was adapted by Food52
More Recipes To Make With Walnuts: Fig, Walnut & Freekeh Salad
And: Walnut Acorn Cookies