WALNUT CAKE WITH ESPRESSO MASCARPONE

Growing up, I had a strong aversion to walnuts. Even as an adult, I would avoid them, preferring hazelnuts, almonds or pine nuts. After a visit to my local market, that taste-memory of bitter, stale and shrivelled walnuts from my childhood had been replaced. These ones, harvested much more recently than the ones we used to eat, were fresh, sweet and creamy. It was the start of walnut season and ever since that moment, they are perhaps my favourite nut. Haruki loves them too, which means they are usually always in the house, kept for afternoon snacks or to be made into pesto or added to cakes and muffins.

I always buy local-ish ones. If I can't find them, and there are only ones from California or even further away, I choose something instead. That amount of time sitting around, being transported, then again, hanging out on shop shelves really affects their flavour, let alone it not being the best option for the environment (all that transportation is not a good thing). There are some really beautiful walnuts coming from Tasmania, as well as from even closer to home, here in Victoria. In fact those mind-changing walnuts were from a lovely producer called  Alpine Nuts . They are based near Bright in the stunning Alpine region and have been producing nuts since 1976. They're in season now, so a perfect time to make a cake which allows them to be the star.

Serves 6-8

250g walnuts

200g brown sugar

180g unsalted butter, softened

4 eggs

100g self-raising flour

Pinch of ground cinnamon

Espresso Mascarpone Cream: 

250g mascarpone

2 tbsp icing sugar, sifted

2 tbsp strong espresso

2-4 tbsp pure cream

Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter and line a 20cm round cake tin. 

Pound the walnuts in a mortar and pestle until roughly ground but still with texture. Some of the walnuts will be finely ground, there will be a few larger pieces, and then some in between. This is more than fine.  You could use a food processor, just be sure to leave some texture in the nuts. Finely ground isn't what you're hoping to end up with. Set aside. 

In a large bowl. cream the sugar and butter until thick and light in texture. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating in between each addition. Stir in the walnuts and then the flour and cinnamon. Gently stir until just combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for around 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted. 

Allow to cool briefly in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

For the mascarpone cream, place the mascarpone and icing sugar in a bowl. Mix to combine and then loosen the mixture with the espresso and 2tbsp of the cream, adding a little extra cream if too thick. It should be thick but not stiff. Be careful not to over-mix, the high fat content in mascarpone means that it can easily split and turn to butter if worked a little too much. A few gentle turns until just combined is ample. Spread the mascarpone cream onto the cooled cake and serve at room temperature.