Not being a lover of coffee cake, this cake was a bit of a revelation. Yes, you can put strong coffee in and the recipe reflects that, but the first round of development led to a cake that has a coffee kick in the icing (that gets stronger each day) but the cake itself had more caramel (deep, like crème brulee as oppose to super sweet) tones than coffee. The texture is like a really good carrot cake and we can only assume that the walnuts helped there. We did not toast the walnuts as some do, but rather kept the flavour profile of the raw nuts instead of adding toastier bitter notes, as coffee has plenty of those.

The main question with a coffee cake is which coffee to use. We still find that making a strong instant coffee is best, with its more rounded flavours. But feel free to experiment. If you want to aim for the original version, that only hints at coffee, then double the amount of water specified in the recipe. Remember you will need to leave time for the coffee to cool.

Recipe for classic coffee and walnut cake with mascarpone icing

You will need 2 x 20cm non-stick sandwich tins, and an electric whisk or standing mixer

225g butter, left out to soften

225g light soft brown sugar

4 eggs, beaten

225g plain flour

3 tsp baking powder

150g walnut halves

3 tbsp instant coffee, made with 100ml boiling water, and cooled

A good pinch of table salt

For the icing

250g mascarpone

150g icing sugar

Lemon zest from half a lemon

(plus, coffee from cake section – see instructions)

  1. Make up your coffee and leave aside to cool.
  2. Pre- heat the oven to 180C.
  3. Grease and line your tins.
  4. Chop the walnuts with a large knife; if you aim for pieces about the size of rice grains, you will also get the requisite number of smaller bits too. They seem to improve the texture of the cake. If you are very careful you could use a processor but take care not to end up with walnut butter.
  5. Place the softened butter in a mixing bowl and add the sugar. Whisk on full speed until pale and fluffy. A good 10 minutes will do it; this step is vital for a soft moist cake.
  6. Now, gradually add the beaten egg. If the mixture looks to curdle, add a tablespoon of the flour and beat well with the mixer.
  7. Mix the flour with the salt and baking powder. Unless you buy your flour straight from a mill, there is little need to sieve it these days.
  8. Taking half of the coffee, and three quarters of the walnuts, alternate between the flour mix and the coffee/walnuts, folding each lot in completely before adding the next. 3 lots of flour is about right. Go carefully, with the edge of the spoon, to keep as much air as possible in the mix.
  9. Divide between the tins, smooth out the tops, and bake for 25 minutes.
  10. Test the cakes, first by pressing on the top; it should bounce back but with a little give. Then stick a knife in and see if it comes clean. Don’t be tempted to give it a little longer ‘to be on the safe side’. Obviously, you do not want raw batter, but it is better to have it sink slightly when it cools than have a dry cake.
  11. Let the cakes cool in the tins for ten minutes then turn out and cool completely.
  12. To make the icing, whisk the mascarpone with the lemon zest, rest of the coffee, and the icing sugar. That will need sieving.
  13. Spread half of the icing on the bottom half, sandwich with the top and repeat. Scatter with the remaining walnuts. You could decorate retro style with whole walnuts instead, but we prefer the scatter. A whole walnut kind of interrupts the enjoyment of the cake, which has quite a high proportion of walnuts to begin with.
  14. Slice and serve. The icing gets deeper as the days go by, and the moist cake keeps really well.