Am I the only one who’s already drowning in holiday plans? I’ve got so many things up my sleeve that there’s no room for my arm in there. Warm, comforting things like grandmothers’ pies, flaky croissants, and freshly baked bread. Fun, festive things like visiting the Southern Christmas Show, trimming the tree, and popping the orange Chipmunks’ Christmas cassette tape into the player. Laborious, time-consuming things like catching up on grading my Mt. Everest of student work. My calendar is full of a variety of things, but what it comes down to is one word: BUSY.
Or maybe three words: BUSY BUSY BUSY.
All that BUSYness coming up is partly why this past weekend was so wonderful. Mike and I enjoyed our trip to Greensboro in our favorite way: with food! We hastily devoured McGriddles and Krispy Kremes, a delicious Thai lunch, and even a fancy dinner in downtown Greensboro. Obviously, we’re professionally trained to handle major consumption. Please don’t try this at home.
Hot doughnuts now! Two hot glazed originals, two raspberry filled, a pumpkin spice, and a chocolate custard-filled.
Sweet Mike before his test, and Thai food afterward!
We also got a chance to just relax. Well, okay, I relaxed. Mike practiced math, was tested on math, and then reflected/brooded about math. I felt a little guilty leisurely browsing the poetry section of a Borders bookstore while he took his math GRE a few blocks away! Thankfully, the test is over, and Mike can finally rest — until he gets his scores back and has to finish up grad school applications, that is. Eek, I’m getting stressed out again — back to this past weekend . . .
I browsed high and low to find the perfect cake for Mike and I to enjoy together on our trip. I wanted something hearty and rustic that could travel without much fuss. I also wanted something homey and special — something we’d remember a few months from now. When a friend sent me Molly of Orangette’s post about Gâteau aux Noix, it sounded perfect.
In fact, this very cake had made a warm home in Molly’s own travel memories — in her case, of visiting Les Eyzies-de-Tayac in southwestern France. The hotel baked these cakes and packaged slices in cellophane for them to eat during a long day outdoors. Since that trip, she’d been looking for a recipe to recreate the memory. After reading her recollections, I couldn’t wait to bake the “brown, humble, nutty” cake she described.
Indeed, she had described the gâteau aux noix perfectly. The cake retains the subtle, sophisticated flavor of dry white wine, while the nuts taste homey and familiar. It’s a simple cake that you can wrap up and cart about until you’re ready to enjoy it. I can also see this being an ideal pantry staple from which to swipe a hunk after each meal.
Mike and I first tried the cake with cinnamon whipped cream, but I decided that accompaniment eclipsed the gentle wine flavor. We then popped open a jar of pears in white grape juice (Trader Joe’s) to slice up with our cake instead. The flavors were perfect together. If you’re dying for creaminess, though, feel free to add a small dollop of whipped cream — just be sure it’s not heavy on the vanilla.
If you need a bit of simplicity in your life, then from my home to yours, here’s the cake for you!
Gâteau aux Noix, or French Walnut Cake
Recipe by: Orangette, adapted slightly from Saveur Cooks Authentic French
Yields: 1, 9-inch cake.
½ cup chopped walnuts, or a touch more
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup walnut oil
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350. Place walnuts in a small dry saucepan and toast over medium heat, shaking pan, until nuts are fragrant, 5-10 minutes. Set aside.
Beat eggs in a medium bowl with an electric mixer. Gradually add sugar and beat until mixture is pale yellow, light, and fluffy. Add walnut oil and wine and mix well.
Generously grease a 9” cake pan (I used an 8-inch with no problem, by the way; your cake will just be a bit thicker). Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into a large bowl. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. Gently fold in walnuts, and then pour batter into prepared pan. NOTE: Mixing a touch of the flour with the walnuts before folding them in may help evenly distribute them.
Bake cake until a toothpick can be inserted and pulled out clean, about 40 minutes (mine took only 30-35, however, and required a bit of tenting with foil for the last five). Remove from oven, cool for ten minutes, and then turn out onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely and serve in wedges. Loosely whipped cream would be a nice accompaniment, if possible.
NOTE: We served this with cinnamon whipped cream, which may have proven too bold a flavor for this subtle cake. We then switched to serving it with jarred pears in white grape juice (Trader Joe’s), which was a perfect complement!
Mixing up the batter.
Baking and fresh out of the oven!
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