Calabrian Walnut Cake

I finally succumbed to the temptation to make Calabrian Walnut Cake, aka Torta de Noci in Italian. Meaning I had foraged enough black walnuts to spare twelve ounces on a decadent treat. And by I, I mean “I” and a bunch of other people, most notably my husband.

The walnuts had been drying in their shells for a few weeks… four months is “a few weeks”, right? And my husband was finally sick of tripping over them in his workshop. So we spent an entire day in late February cracking and sifting and sorting the five-gallons-plus of nuts we’d cleaned last fall.

For the record, I don’t recommend doing it all in one day. The work was tiresome, achy, boring and tedious. And February was a really, really cold time to be working outside. The fancy nutcracker from Christmas didn’t work all that great (although still better than a hammer and anvil) and lots of additional work was needed to pry out the nutmeats.

Hard at working cracking black walnuts
Hard at working cracking black walnuts

At the end, we were rewarded with 4.3 pounds of black walnuts to savor!

Here’s the thing. My husband doesn’t like black walnuts.

What’s a forager to do? Improvise! I decided to soak and dry the walnuts before cooking with them, hoping the process would leach out some of the bitter flavor. I soaked them for a total of eight hours, with a water / salt change at the halfway mark. (Soaking nuts offers the bonus of making nuts easier to digest and more nutritious, so it’s worth considering even when there aren’t flavor issues to contend with.) I then left them in the dehydrator overnight on a low setting to crisp back up. The next morning, I proffered a piece of the improved nutmeat. He took it skeptically, nibbled it gingerly, and reported it was “not as bad”.

I decided to make the cake anyway.

Calabrian walnut cake
Calabrian walnut cake

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (or know me IRL), you will be amazed to know that I did NOT change the recipe at all from what the Hammons listed. Even though I’m not convinced it’s worth the extra work to separate the egg whites, beat them to stiff peaks and then fold them in gently, I still did it. I even used brown sugar, rather than substituting coconut sugar for a more paleo version. I contemplated maple syrup for a sweetener, to make it more local(-able) and seasonal, but worried it would change the texture.

Calabrian walnut cake
Calabrian walnut cake

I garnished the cake with homemade grain-free confectioner’s sugar. If you’re worried about the corn starch in confectioner’s sugar, it is SO easy to make your own, rather than shell out more money at the health food store to buy one of the grain-free brands. (I mean, sugar – either confectioner’s or brown – really isn’t “paleo” anyway, but this is an improvement if you know you don’t digest grain products well.)

Last but not least, I served the walnut cake with a pony glass of amaretto to drizzle on individual bites if/as desired, rather than glazing the whole cake.

It. Was. So. Tasty.

Even my skeptical husband enjoyed the cake. If you want to cook a fancy dessert that is super rich but overall, quite simple (and easy to make more paleo), the Calabrian walnut cake is an amazing option. The flavor is rich and satisfying that between the two of us, we were only able to eat one slice!

What other black walnut recipes should I try, now that I have this new strategy of soaking them? I still have a lot more to eat and given how much work they were, I am NOT letting them go to waste! Leave a comment below if you have suggestions.

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