Well, I can hardly claim that this nuts and chocolate cake has been inspired by an impending sense of autumn approaching given that in Bologna, where I am spending the last days of this summer holiday, the temperature is still in the high 20s despite the odd precipitation. I should rather say that I decided to buy last season's Italian walnuts rather than this year's Chilean ones and that I elected to use them before they become rancid.
Ideal in pasta sauces and pesto, cakes, salad toppings, perfect partners for a soft creamy cheese like a sweet Gorgonzola, walnuts are truly versatile and delicious, provided they are eaten before they become old and the precious oil, an excellent source of selenium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc, iron and calcium as well as omega-3 fats and vitamins of the B group, becomes rancid. Unless you plan to eat your walnuts quickly, it is best to keep them in the fridge, the same goes for opened bottles of walnut oil, which I find totally delicious with sliced avocados along with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of smoked Cornish sea salt flakes.
My nonna Lea from Crevalcore, the small town where I was born, used to make a similar chocolate and walnuts cake. It wasn't my favourite as a child, but I grew to adore it when unfortunately she was no longer there to make it for us. I think this recipe is as close as it gets to hers, although I am pretty sure she would not have used almonds along with the walnuts, and certainly would not have used wholemeal flour! Possibly a result of having lived through the food shortages of WW2.
I hope you enjoy making and eating this cake, perhaps with custard made with 3 egg yolks, 250g whole milk, seeds from half a vanilla pod and 30g sugar...add a tsp of cornflour if you can already picture a split custard disaster looming.
Walnuts and chocolate cake
200g unrefined caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence (or the seeds of 1/2 vanilla pod)
130g dark chocolate (50%)
150g walnut halves
50g ground almonds (or whole roasted almonds to grind with the walnuts)
1 heaped tbsp cocoa powder
50g wholemeal flour
1 pinch of sea salt
2 tbsp greek yogurt
2 tsp baking powder
In a large bowl whisk the eggs and sugar until very light and more than tripled in volume. Ideally leave a mixer to do this for you as it will take about 5 to 7 minutes. Half way through add the vanilla essence. In the meantime melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or on a very very low heat. Place the walnut halves, reserving a few, and almonds in a mixer and grind coarsely, adding a tbsp of sugar to prevent clogging if necessary.
Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Add the chocolate and butter mixture to the eggs and mix lightly but thoroughly. Next add the flour, nuts, cocoa, salt and yogurt, leaving the baking powder last. Once you have a smooth mix, pour into a 24cm round cake tin lined with baking parchment. Decorate with some walnut halves and bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. This cake is best eaten one day after it is baked, but, as always, use your judgement.