Saturday, 22 June 2013

Coffee and walnut cake

This is simple, but moist and delicious – even my sister, who claims to dislike coffee and walnut cake, says she likes this one. There are 3 components to it – the cake itself, buttercream icing to sandwich the layers together, and a simple glaze – and each part contains coffee essence. You could go out and buy coffee essence, but if you have instant coffee granules you can just make your own – as you’ll see below.

Makes one double-layer 7in cake

Gather your equipment
Essential equipment:  Lined cake tins, mixing bowl, mixing spoon, fork, measuring spoons, scales, small bowls for mixing your icing, small glasses for preparing your ‘coffee essence’
Optional equipment: Spatula, electric whisk
Gather your ingredients
For this recipe you'll need: 200g plain flour, 1 ½ tsp baking powder, 200g butter/margarine, 200g sugar (brown, caster, or a mix of both), 3 eggs, coffee essence/instant coffee, 100g chopped walnuts, 1-2tbsp milk. 
For the icing: 60g butter/margarine, 120g icing sugar, coffee essence/instant coffee. 
For the glaze: 100g icing sugar, coffee essence/instant coffee
Optional: Cocoa powder and walnut halves for decoration, and/or you can switch some of the walnuts in the cake for hazelnuts, pecans etc.
  • If you're using butter, leave it at room temperature to soften for a few hours
  • I like to use a half-and-half mix of soft brown sugar and caster sugar in this recipe, but I’ve also used the full 200g of caster sugar or just Demerara sugar in the past
Prepare coffee essence
This part is a bit like chemistry... but a lot easier; you just need to make 3 different very small dilutions of coffee. I like to make them all at the same time before I even preheat the oven, then just leave them on the side until I need them. You could just do them as you go along though, if you prefer
  • If making your own: the cake needs a dilution of 1tbsp coffee to 1tbsp boiling water. The icing needs 2tsp coffee to 1tsp boiling water. The glaze needs 2tsp coffee to 2tsp boiling water.
  • If using readymade coffee essence: the cake needs 50ml. The icing needs 2tsp. The glaze needs 2tsp.
Prepare to bake
Preheat oven to 180°C, line your cake tins if you haven’t already, break your walnuts into pieces (they are so soft that you can just use your hands). Weigh out your flour and baking powder and mix them together (use a sieve if you’ve got one).
  • I get ‘walnut pieces’, which are mostly already chopped, but there may be some walnut halves remaining in the bag – I take these out and use them for decoration.
Cream together butter and sugar
Beat just 200g of the butter until it’s smooth and creamy, using an electric whisk if you have one, or a fork if you don't, then add your sugar/sugars and mix everything together very well.
Add eggs with some of the flour
Add one egg at a time, with a spoonful of the flour/baking powder. Beat well after each addition, and continue for each of the 3 eggs. The mixture will be very runny at this stage.
Add coffee essence
Add your 1tbsp coffee/1tbsp water mixture (or 50ml of the shop-bought stuff) and stir well
Mix flour and walnuts, then stir into the mixture. Add milk
Mix the walnuts into the remaining flour until they’re all coated, then add the flour roughly half at a time to the mixing bowl. Stir with the mixing spoon, using a ‘folding’ motion (mixing from the bottom of the bowl to the top, rather than going ‘round and round’). When all the flour is incorporated, add a splash of milk – usually 2tbsp should be enough to bring it to the right consistency. You want the cake mix to be able to drop from the spoon without having to shake it too much.
Pour into tins, bake
Pour the cake mix into two tins, spread out and smooth down using a spatula, then bake for 25-30 minutes. Insert a cocktail stick/skewer into the centre of the cake to determine if it’s done – if it comes out clean, it’s ready. Leave to cool in the tins.
Make the icing
Meanwhile, make the buttercream icing which will sandwich the two cakes together. Make up a standard batch of buttercream icing (60g butter to 120g icing sugar). Add your 2tsp coffee/1tsp water mixture (or 2tsp of the shop-bought stuff) and stir well.
  • If you’ve only just made your coffee essence, the heat of the boiled water may melt the icing a little – if so just leave it to cool slightly and it’ll be fine.
Sandwich the cakes together
Trim the top of one of the cakes if you want a flatter surface, then spread the icing on top and sandwich the two cakes together.

Prepare the glaze and decorate
Sift 100g icing sugar into a small bowl, add your 2tsp coffee/2tsp water mixture (or 2tsp of the shop-bought stuff) and stir well. Add enough water to get a spreadable consistency. Spoon over the top of your cake and spread around. Decorate with walnuts and a dust of cocoa powder, if you like.
  • When making the glaze I like to add just enough water to make it spreadable, but not so much that it runs off the edges of the cake – this is quite a delicate balance, and as you can see from the picture above I added far too much water! If you do add too much water you can add more icing sugar if you can be bothered, but I usually just let it drizzle over the sides - you could do this on a wire rack so that the drizzled glaze does not 'pool' on the cake stand/plate as it has in the picture above.
And here’s what the final cake looked like:
This particular one was sold in the café where I work; the Red Onion in Ruislip, where it always goes down very well! This is also the reason for the unattractive foil-covered paper plate, making for easier transport.

And here's what it looks like when it's a bit neater...

Coffee and Walnut cake: - makes a 7in two-layer cake
200g plain flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
200g butter/margarine
100g light soft brown sugar
100g caster sugar
3 eggs
50ml coffee essence (or 1tbsp coffee/1tbsp water)
100g chopped walnuts
1-2tbsp milk
For the sandwiching icing:
60g butter/margarine
120g icing sugar
2tsp coffee essence (or 2tsp coffee/1tsp water)
For the glaze:
100g icing sugar
2tsp coffee essence (or 2tsp coffee/1tbsp water)
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Sift flour and baking powder together, set aside
  2. Cream together butter and sugars
  3. Add 1 egg at a time with a spoonful of flour, stirring after each addition
  4. Stir in the coffee essence
  5. Fold in the remaining flour and walnuts
  6. Add sufficient milk to bring to a soft dropping consistency
  7. Separate between two tins, bake for 25-30 minutes
  8. Meanwhile, combine the butter, icing sugar and coffee essence to make the buttercream icing for sandwiching
  9. Sandwich together the two cakes
  10. Top with the glaze – the final measure of icing sugar combined with the coffee essence and enough water to give the desired consistency
Recipe originally from: River Cottage Baking


  1. I love the way you show us exactly what happens when things don't go according to plan. No other recipe book I have seen has done this. It is such a comfort to baking novices like me.

    1. Sorry Nicky, I have only just seen this. Things very frequently don't go according to plan, and I doubt many people have the patience or time to re-do them, so as long as it tastes good, I'm happy!