Walnut Cake with Milk Chocolate Mousse and Salted Maple Caramel

*This post was created in partnership with California Walnuts, but all opinions are my own.. I’m so excited to be bringing you some of my very favorite walnut recipes in 2019 like these candied and chocolate covered walnuts and a hearty and nutritious soup made creamy with the help of walnuts.

This month we’re celebrating this heart-healthy* nut by making a cake that will warm anybody’s heart. Too much? Wait until you see the cake.

Normally when I crave a cake I stay clear away from those towering numbers that steal the show on everyone’s Instagram feed. Perhaps it was years of making wedding cakes that turned me off of stacking cakes on cakes then frosting to a slick perfection. Or perhaps it’s because for me, when it comes to cake I like it plain and often in loaf form.

It’s no surprise to many of you that I’m more of a snack cake fan (exhibit A, B, C). The sort that slips casually onto a plate tucked next to a cup of coffee in the morning. Or the sort that is perfectly fine served on a napkin at three in the afternoon. I don’t need a show stopper, I just want a simple stunner with a hearty crumb, a tender bite and one that values flavor over beauty.

In this walnut cake, flooded with milk chocolate mousse, covered with maple cream cheese frosting and a cascading river of salted maple caramel I believe we all win. Because in all its glory this cake is indeed a stunner. But strip away the frills and you have a cake that made my Saturday morning coffee time shine.

I will say that the milk chocolate mousse, while lovely, is a step that I may skip the next time I opt for stacking this cake. Just the cake, plentifully studded with walnuts, wrapped in a lightly sweet frosting and the flood of maple caramel is quite right on it’s own. But you know, it’s good to have options.

Stacked or unstacked this cake makes hearts happy.

 

Walnut Cake with Milk Chocolate Mousse and Salted Maple Caramel

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 3/4 cup whole milk

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon orange zest

2 cups chopped, toasted walnuts (plus more for finishing the cake)

Instructions

Makes two 8-inch cakes

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 3/4 cup whole milk

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon orange zest

2 cups chopped, toasted walnuts (plus more for finishing the cake)

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans lined with parchment paper.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.

In another large bowl whisk together the olive oil, milk, eggs and orange zest. Add this to the dry ingredients then mix well to combine. Stir in the walnuts.

Divide among the two prepared cake pans and bake for 50 - 60 minutes. Or until the middle springs back when gently pressed.

Let the cake cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing from the pan and cooling completely on a wire rack.

While the cakes cool prepare the frosting and mousse.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup

Pinch salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment add the butter and cream cheese. Beat on medium low until creamy and well mixed, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the powdered sugar, maple syrup and a pinch of salt then mix on low until combined. Increase the speed to medium then beat for an addition 5 minutes. Set aside.

Milk Chocolate Mousse

From Epicurious.com

2 tablespoons brewed coffee

5 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped

3/4 cup heavy cream, cold

Bring a small pot of water to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Combine the coffee and chocolate in a medium metal bowl that can sit atop the pot of water without touching the water. Place the bowl on the pot and heat until the chocolate is melted, stirring often. When the mixture is smooth, remove from the heat and set aside to cool until no longer warm to the touch.

While the chocolate cools, whip the cream until soft peaks.

Gently fold in about half of the whipped cream into the chocolate. When just combined fold in the remaining whipped cream. Chill until ready to assemble the cake.

Salted Maple Caramel

1 cup maple syrup

Add the maple syrup to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer then reduce to 3/4 cup over low heat, about 5 - 7 minutes.

Keep a close eye on it as it can boil over. Let cool to room temperature.

To assemble the cake:

Once the cakes are completely cooled it’s time to assemble!

Using a piping bag (or if you’re fresh out as I was use a ziplock with a small cut in one corner) pipe a ridge or dam around the top edge of one of the cake layers. Fill the frosting fencing with the chocolate mousse (you may not need all the mousse, consider that the cake baker’s bonus). Top with the remaining cake layer. Then frost the entire cake.

Refrigerate until firm.

Just before serving add 1 cup or so of toasted walnuts to the top of the cake then pour the maple caramel over the top of the walnuts. Sprinkle with flake salt then serve right away.

 

*Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. One ounce of walnuts provides 18g of total fat, 2.5g of monounsaturated fat, 13g of polyunsaturated fat, including 2.5g of alpha-linolenic acid, the plant-based omega-3.

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Squash Toast with Smoky Onion Jam

For my first time dining at ABC Kitchen my friend and dining companion forced the squash toast on me. I read that menu with as much enthusiasm, delight and excitement as I did reading Harry Potter 7 (I just finished rereading the series and am deeply missing it). Each dish ignited inspiration – except for the squash toast. Squishy ricotta, on squishy bread with squishy squash. But she insisted.

 

I love it when I’m wrong. When I’m reminded of the very thing I teach my children on a daily basis, “Don’t judge something before you’ve tried it.” (Same goes for people, places, experiences, etc.)  Before I even realized it I’ve made up my own mind, somehow convincing myself of the truth when really I know nothing.

 

So here I give you my recipe for humble pie. Otherwise known as Squash Toast.

 

I have made this recipe several times since our dinner at ABC Kitchen. I’ve used butternut squash, as they do at the restaurant but I’ve since switched to delicata as I love that the squash doesn’t squish into the jam. Instead the skin (also, no peeling!) crisps in the oven so you get a lovely tender crunch. I also think the little roasted half moons are so stunning sitting atop a bed of creamy ricotta. However, no one complained when I used butternut squash so feel free to decide for yourself.

 

This dish can skew towards the sweet so don’t be shy with salt and heat. I have also added smoked paprika to the original recipe because, well, you know me, I love smoke.

 

Now I am the one insisting you try this recipe. Trust me.

 

Squash Toast with Smoky Onion Jam

Yield 4 servings

This recipe is my version of the iconic toast served at ABC Kitchen. 

Ingredients

Onion Jam

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

Pinch salt

Pinch chili flake

3 thyme sprigs

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Roasted Squash

1 delicata squash, halved and seeded

2 tablespoons Olive oil

Sea salt

Chili flake

Toast

4 thick cut slices of bread

Olive oil

salt

1 cup whole milk ricotta

1/4 cup mint leaves, torn or chopped

Instructions

For the onion jam:

In a large skillet or dutch oven set over medium heat, add the olive oil, butter, onions and then a pinch of salt. Stir in the chili flake and thyme sprigs.

Cook the onions slowly until they start to soften and then eventually brown. If the edges start to brown and crisp turn down the heat so as to gently encourage the natural sugars in the onions to caramelize. This, like so many of life’s finest things, takes time. So give it that. 45 minutes to an hour is fine. You could go longer and your patience would be rewarded.

Once the onions match the color of a fine aged cigar (first reference that popped into my head - Gabe is really into cigars right now) stir in the vinegar and maple syrup. Reduce until sticky - neither soupy or dry, about 3 minutes of cooking. Turn off the heat, wait for it to cool a bit then pluck the thyme sprigs from the jam. While the jam cools roast the squash.

For the squash:

Line a sheet pan with parchment and preheat your oven to 400°F.

Cut the squash into 1/4 inch thick half moons. Add to the sheet pan then toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and a pinch of chili flake. Roast until tender and caramelized in parts. I don’t even mind a few bits that are crisp and charred.

Gently fold the roasted squash into the onion jam. Keep warm for the toasts or make ahead, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Rewarm before serving.

Assemble the toast:

Drizzle the bread with olive oil then toast in a hot skillet, grill pan or on an actual grill. You want a good bit of color on the exterior crust while maintaining some softness within. SO use a very hot pan.

Top the bread with ricotta then add a nice pinch of salt. Add to that about 1/3 cup of the onion/squash mixture. Finish with salt and fresh mint. I like to add a bit more chili flake to mine too but that is up to you.

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