A classic chocolate cake, moist and earthy, studded with black walnuts. An old family recipe now 'reunited' with its story.
Careful Kitchen Parade readers just might recognize this column's story about the Missouri woman and her black walnut tree. You see, the story was published back in February along with the recipe for Black Walnut Bread. Then, just a week ago, the woman's daughter told me, "I've got the chocolate cake recipe that matches that story."
Thank you, Vera, for sharing the recipe for your mother's 'Lady Betty Cake'. I like to think that she is beaming from heaven, pleased to know that her legacy for all her children and grandchildren and even great-grandchildren now also includes the family's long-time favorite walnut chocolate cake.
It was a hard-scrabble place, that farm, but to a Missouri widow and her four children in the 1940s and 50s, it was home.Out front was a black walnut tree with a trunk larger than a grown man’s arms' outstretched, with upper boughs furnishing welcome shade.
Come fall, as the walnuts ripened and dropped, the green-colored husks were mounded in the sun to dry. Then all four kids settled onto the house’s rock steps for the real work, cracking the husks with hammers, hands turning sticky-black; breaking the shells; and finally, with great precision, extracting the walnut nutmeat with nutpicks. It required real effort, harvesting black walnuts, but to the widow and her four children, it was just the way it was, the reward a chocolate cake studded with smoky-strong, slightly musty black walnuts.
In later years, the widow worried that the aged tree would fall onto the farmhouse. She consulted her then-grown children about taking it down. “No, no,” they said. “That tree is our childhood, our heritage. We love that tree.”
One day, the tree was gone. The widow explained, “The nicest man stopped by and offered to take it down, said he wouldn’t charge me, either.”
There was no resurrecting the walnut tree, nor was there telling the widow that that nice man had harvested black walnut wood worth about $15,000. It was just the way it was.
BLACK WALNUT CHOCOLATE CAKE
Time to table: 3 hours
Serves 12 with generous pieces, more for slimmer ones
- 4 ounces (113g) bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate
- 4 large egg whites
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 11 tablespoons butter, warmed to room temperature
- 1-1/2 cups (327g) sugar
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1-2/3 cups flour, fluffed to aerate before measuring or 220g
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt
- 1 - 3 teaspoons cinnamon, optional (see TIPS)
- 2 cups (236g/8ounces) chopped black walnuts (see TIPS)
- 1 cup whole milk
- Powdered sugar for dusting, optional
Set the oven to 325F. Generously grease a Bundt pan. (I recommend Baker's Joy for best results with Bundt pans.)
MELT CHOCOLATE Gently melt the chocolate, either in a small saucepan over low heat or in a bowl in the microwave, 10 seconds at a time.
WHIP EGG WHITES While the beaters are clean, in a medium bowl, beat the egg whites and salt with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
CREAM BUTTER, SUGAR & EGGS In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks until light and fluffy.
MEASURE DRY INGREDIENTS In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and walnuts.
COMBINE Mixing just until combined, mix into the butter mixture:– 1/3 flour mixture
– half milk
– 1/3 flour mixture
– remaining milk
– melted chocolate
– remaining flour mixture
FOLD IN EGG WHITES With a spatula, gently fold in the beaten egg whites. Transfer to the Bundt pan.
BAKE & COOL Bake for 60 - 75 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Turn cake onto a cooling rack to finish cooling, then transfer to a cake plate. If you like, sprinkle with powdered sugar.
SERVE Slice and serve with scoops of maple ice cream made without (or with, either way) walnuts. Savor and remember!
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