Black Walnut Cake
The black walnut or Juglans nigra or “black nut of Jupiter,” is a type of tree which grows in the northeastern United States from Ontario, Canada to Northern Florida. There are many uses for the tree beyond the production of nuts. The wood is of a high quality and is used as finishing wood, or wood that will show in a finished product and is highly sought after by woodworkers for its look and feel.
The nuts themselves are also used for many industrial purposes other than culinary. The shells of the walnuts are incredibly dense and used for all sorts of abrasive industrial applications. There is also a pigment called juglone, plumbagin and tannin, which is used in commercial applications such as furniture dye and was even used as hair dye for many years. Due to these compounds, black walnut trees are known to stain cars, driveways and patios as well as siding and houses if the trees are planted to close to these areas.
Black walnuts can be bought commercially, the largest producer of them being Hammons Products Company, in Missouri. Shelling the walnuts yourself is a difficult job and can cause health issues in those who are sensitive to contact dermatitis. If you do attempt this, be sure to harvest “green” walnut shells, as these are easier to break open and this is when the nuts are at their best, also be sure to have the area protected from the pigments contained in the shells.
Like a lot of trees, the black walnut tree is facing its own threat in the form of a disease called Thousand Cankers Disease which is caused by the combined activity of the walnut twig beetle (Pityophthorus juglandis) and a canker producing fungus, Geosmithia morbida. So far, this disease has only affected trees on the westernmost area of the trees habitat, but it is expected to move east.
Two of the other uses of the tree are the production of black walnut oil (see chart) and a sweet syrup which can be made from tapping the tree in the spring and reducing it in a similar method to making maple syrup. It is not used as much as the maple variety, but it is used as a commercial sweetener in many products.
Black Walnut Oil Nutritional Informantion
Nutritionally similar to the milder-tasting English walnut, the black walnut kernel is high in unsaturated fat and protein. An analysis of nut oil from five named J. nigra cultivars (Ogden, Sparrow, Baugh, Carter and Thomas) showed the most prevalent fatty acid in J. nigra oil is linoleic acid (27.80–33.34 g/100g dry kernel), followed (in the same units) by oleic acid (14.52–24.40), linolenic acid (1.61–3.23), palmitic acid (1.61–2.15), and stearic acid (1.07–1.69). The oil from the cultivar Carter had the highest mol percentage of linoleate (61.6), linolenate (5.97%), and palmitate (3.98%); the oil from the cultivar Baugh had the highest mol percentage of oleate (42.7%); the oil from the cultivar Ogden has the highest mol percentage of stearate (2.98%).
There are five main types of black walnut tree, they are grown for specific purposes such as use as lumbar and use for production of nuts. The main varieties of walnut producing trees include: Thomas, Neel #1, Thomas Myers, and Pounds #2, Stoker, Surprise, Emma K, Sparrow, S127, and McGinnis. There is also an older variety known as Kwik Krop, which is still in use in some areas. All of these are primarily hybrids bred specifically for the commercial production of nuts. If you wish to plant these trees in a large garden for personal use, these are the varieties to ask for. The harvesting of nuts usually comes in alternating cycles of bumper crops every other year
The black walnut is also the state tree of Missouri, and is in high demand as a source of lumber. Many trees are cut down and sold because of the high demand for the multi-purpose tree. Trees are often cut from public areas and stolen from people’s yards. The long period of time it takes for a Black walnut (60 years) to grow to maturity has driven up the price of the hardwood and made these enterprises profitable, despite the risk and cost. Six mature black walnut trees can fetch as much as $60,000 dollars on the open market. This makes them a prime target for poachers who want to exploit parks and residential areas.
Black Walnut Cake is an adaptation of the classic English Walnut Cake using local ingredients. There are basically two methods of making this cake. One is the traditional cake with whole or chopped black walnuts mixed into the batter and the other is to grind the nuts and make a torte.
A torte is a cake in which some or all of the flour has been replaced by ground nuts or nut flour. These cakes are usually denser than their counterparts due to the lack of a gluten web to trap the leavening agents. A torte will give you a lot more flavor of the black walnut than the traditional cake which will give you bites of it here and there interspersed with the flavor of whatever cake you have incorporated them into.
The most traditional cake used is the pound cake, but Bundt cakes as well as chiffon and even Lady Cakes can be used to make the dish. I, myself add black walnuts to the filling of The Lady Baltimore Cake, lending its distinctive flavor to the traditional dish.
Lady Baltimore Cake W/ Black Walnut
2 Tablespoons Plus ½ Pound Unsalted Butter, Softened
2 Tablespoons Plus 3 Cups Cake Flour
1 Tablespoon Double Acting Baking Powder
¼ Teaspoons Salt
1 Cup Milk
1 Teaspoon Almond Extract
1 ½ Cups Sugar
5 Egg Whites
Note: Before making the cake, see the frosting section opposite for instructions regarding the soaking of dried fruit and nuts.
Cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. With a pastry brush, spread 2 tablespoons of the softened butter on the bottom and sides of three 9 inch layer cake pans. Divide 2 tablespoons of the flour among the three pans and tip the pans from side to side to distribute flour evenly. Then invert each pan and rap it sharply to remove the excess flour.
Combine the remaining flour, baking powder and salt, and sift them together into a bowl. Stir the milk and almond extract together in a small bowl and set aside.
In a large deep bowl, cream the remaining butter and the sugar together by beating them against the sides of the bowl with the back of a wooden spoon until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in about 1 cup of the flour mixture and, when it is all incorporated, beat in 1/3 cup of the milk and almond extract mixture. Repeat twice more, alternating the flour and milk mixtures, and continue to beat until the butter is smooth.
With a wire whisk or a rotary or electric beater, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until they are firm enough to stand in stiff peaks on the beater when it is lifted out of the bowl. Stir a few tablespoons of whites into the batter, then scoop the batter over the whites and fold together gently, but thoroughly with a rubber spatula.
Pour the batter into the pans, dividing it equally among them and smoothing the tops with the spatula. Bake in the middle of the oven for 25 – 30 minutes, until the tops are pale gold and they have begun to shrink away from the sides of the pan. Turn the cake layers out onto wire racks to cool at room temperature.
4 Egg Whites
¼ Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
1 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Light Corn Syrup
12 Dried Figs, Pitted and Finely Chopped
2 Cups Black Walnuts, Finely Chopped
2 Cups Seedless Raisins, Finely Chopped
1 Cup Sherry
1 Cup Maraschino Cherries
Frosting: With a wire whisk or a rotary or electric beater, beat the 4 egg whites and cream of tartar in a deep bowl until they are firm enough to stand in stiff peaks on the beater when lifted from the bowl.
Quickly combine the sugar, water and corn syrup in a heavy 1 to 1 ½ quart enameled or stainless steel saucepan and, stirring frequently, cook over moderate heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and continue to cook uncovered and undisturbed until the syrup reaches 238 degrees F. on a candy thermometer, or until a few drops spooned into ice water immediately form a soft ball.
Beat the reserved egg whites constantly, pour in the hot syrup in a slow, thin stream, and continue to beat until the filling is smooth, thick and cool.
Filling: Place the figs and raisins in a bowl and add the sherry to soak for 30 minutes.
Place the raisins, nuts, and figs in a fine sieve and drain them. Discard the soaking liquid. Toss with the walnuts.
To Assemble: Set one cake layer upside down on an inverted cake pan and with a metal spatula or knife, spread about ½ cup of the frosting evenly over the surface of the cake. Carefully put the second layer in place right side up and spread with another ½ cup of the frosting and ½ of the fruit and walnut mixture. Place the rest on top of the second layer. Top with the third cake layer right side up and coat the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Carefully slide the cake onto a serving plate and serve. Or, if you prefer, cover loosely with wax paper or aluminum foil and set aside at room temperature for as long as two days; frosting will keep the cake moist.
For my interpretation, I Figured I would use a more local ingredient to this dish. All of the cakes call for walnuts, but I thought black walnuts would be a great local addition. Of course this would make the cake more of a seasonal dish.
I try to keep the cake as white as possible and fold the nuts and fruit into the cake batter and then I have a completely white frosting to use on the cake, however you lose the pristine white of the cake, so it is better still to add the walnut filling into the middle if the cake to give some contrast to the white on white effect.
This recipe is almost the same as the one from the Time – Life Foods of the World Series printed in 1971, with the addition of black walnuts instead of regular walnuts.
This recipe again since it is a baking ratio has not changed much over the years, only the filling has been modified from the traditional lady style cake.
There is some link to the walnut cake going back as far as ancient China. It was considered a luxury dish for the very wealthy, as anything that would require so much effort to extract from their shells would. Modern manufacturing has made the process much easier and the walnut cake, while popular, never was considered to be the king of nuts like they are in many regions of the world.
Traditional or English Walnuts are almost exclusively grown the southwestern region of the United States, in fact the state of Arizona was originally named “Nogales,” which is Spanish for Walnut, due to the large quantity of walnut groves in the southern part of the region.
Black walnuts were a great source of food for the Native Americans and later the English colonists as they provided a high protein source that became available, just as most other foods were becoming scarce. It was also a familiar food to the colonists, who already knew how to use them to their best advantage. While black walnuts have a distinctive flavor with is quite different from their English walnut counterpart, they act and react the same way in preparation and in use. For those who have not tried the black walnut, I would highly recommend using them in your next culinary adventure. They can be used in any preparation that regular walnuts can.
Black Walnut Cake
Eat, Drink & Be Merry in Maryland
Frederick Philip Stieff
The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore & London, 1932
¾ Lb. butter. 1 Lb. sugar, 1 Lb. Flour. 1 nutmeg (ground). 6 eggs. ¾ lb. black walnuts. Bake in a loaf pan. – Ms. Charles B. Trail, Frederick County.
This is a very basic recipe for a black walnut pound cake. Everything is measured as a pound, with the fat of the nuts compensating for the reduction in butter by ¼ cup. No real instruction is given for the preparation of this dish, but you can work it out from accessing any pound cake recipe. Creaming the butter and sugar is important to the lightening of this mixture. Do not over incorporate the flour, or it will be very dry. I would add the flour last so as not to overwork it.
Dutch Black Walnut Christmas Cake
The Pennsylvania Dutch and their Cookery
J. George Frederick
The Business Bourse, Publishers, 1935
2 Cups Sugar
1 Cup Milk
1 Cup Butter
3 ⅓ Cups Flour
4 Tsp. Baking Powder
1 Pt. chopped Black Walnut Meats
⅓ Tsp. Salt
Cream the butter and then work in the eggs (well beaten) and sugar. Then sift in the flour, baking powder and salt; add the nuts and stir alternately into the flour mixture together with the milk. Oil a large cake pan, put in the mixture and bake for 50 minutes in moderate oven. Spread a nut icing over it.
The modern version of this dish is actually due to the persistent use of the recipe by the Pennsylvania Dutch. They have actually kept this dish alive in the region, even through the cake mix revolution of the last century.
In this cake, you have a pound cake with a chemical leavener and the walnuts are added as part of the icing, rather than into the cake.
Walnut Cake Men Prefer
The Georgetown Cookbook
Compiled by: St. Stephen’s Guild of Christ Church Parish
1 Pound Black Walnut Meats
1 Pound Dates Pitted and Left Whole
1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Flour Sifted Over Dates and Nuts, Leaving ⅛ of It in the Sifter with Baking Powder
3 Tsp. Baking Powder
1 Tsp. Vanilla
½ Tsp. Salt
4 Eggs, Beaten Separately
Beat yolks, add sugar and then alternately nuts and dates with beaten whites and other ingredients. Cook 1 hour in moderate oven, 350°.
Makes 2 small cakes.
This version is actually more of a fruit cake. Great for the holidays. It is also the best time of year to buy black walnuts since they are harvested in the late fall and early winter. Black walnuts are a common ingredient for Thanksgiving and Christmas in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Black Walnut Cake
Recipes from Old Virginia
Virginia Association for Family & Community Education, Inc.
The Dietz Press 1958
¾ Cup Butter
2 Cups Sugar
3 Cups Flour
1 Tsp. Baking Powder
1 Cup Milk
1 Tsp. Vanilla
2 Cups Black Walnut Meats
Cream butter, sugar and eggs together. Sift flour and baking powder. Add all ingredients. Bake in cake mold about 1 hour in moderate oven. (350°).
Mrs. Ernest Vawter, Louisa County
This is the classic Bundt cake. It is often finished with powdered sugar, but can also be topped with a royal icing.
Black Walnut Pound Cake
The Virginia Hostess
Junior women’s Club of Manasses, Inc.
The Wimmer Companies, Inc. 1991
1 ½ Cups Butter or Margarine
1 Tsp. Black Walnut Flavoring
1 (16 Oz. Box) 10 X Sugar
1 Cup chopped Black Walnuts
2 Cups flour + 2 Tbsp. Flour
Cream the butter and sugar, add one egg at a time, beating thoroughly after each. Add flour gradually, mixing well. Add flavoring and nuts. Bake in a greased and floured tube pan at 350° for 65 minutes. Remove from pan to cool on rack. Delicious if sliced thinly and served with vanilla ice cream between two slices, sandwich style. Serves 12.
This is the first mention of using black walnut flavoring. This is a product which is usually only available in the Mid-Atlantic region and even then, it can be hard to find. I am not crazy about using it, since I feel that it gives a sort of “moldy” aftertaste to the dish. You are better off grinding some of the nuts and folding them in with the batter rather than using this.
Maryland Black Walnut Cake
Chesapeake Bay Cooking
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Tbsp. Baking Powder
¼ Tsp. Salt
8 Oz. (2 Sticks) Butter
1 ½ Cups Sugar
1 Tsp. Vanilla
3 Eggs, Separated
¾ Cup Milk
1 ½ Cups Ground Black Walnuts
Confectioner’s Sugar for Dusting
Vanilla Ice Cream and/or Fresh Strawberry Sauce, for Accompaniment (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 10 inch tube pan.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and egg yolks. Beat the mixture well. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk in small portions into the batter, mixing after each addition. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gently fold them into the batter, one third at a time. Fold in the walnuts. Pour the mixture into the pan.
Bake for 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
Dust the confectioner’s sugar, and serve with vanilla ice cream or surround with a fresh strawberry sauce. Or if you feel like pulling out all the stops, try all three.
This is a great version of the torte method of making the cake. The walnuts are ground rather than just folded into the batter and it blends well with the texture of the cake. Again, be careful with mixing in the flour, since this cake will be denser, due to the ground nuts. You must also be aware of not over baking the cake, which will dry it out. The ground nuts will actually make this cake moister than an average cake.
Black Walnut Cake
The Editor’s of Stackpile Books &
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Stackpile Books, 2004
3 Cups Flour
1 ¾ Cups Sugar
2 Tsp. Baking Powder
1 ½ Tsp. Salt
4 Eggs, Divided
1 Cup Shortening
¾ Cup Milk
2 Tsp. Vanilla
1 Cup Black Walnuts, Chopped
Shortening, eggs and milk should be at room temperature. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add two eggs, shortening, milk and vanilla to the flour mixture, and beat for 2 minutes. Add 2 remaining eggs and beat an additional 2 minutes. Fold in black walnuts. Pour batter into Bundt-type baking pan. Bake at 375° for 1 hour. When cool, remove from pan and glaze the cake.
This is another version of the classic Bundt version of the cake. Be sure to grease and flour your Bundt pan, if it is new, as the pan get older, a patina will form and allow the pan to work better, but “curing” the pan is necessary for the first few uses, especially the more intricate the design of the pan. Many of the more intricately designed pans may look great, but they often have areas where the cake will cook unevenly, try to find one that is symmetrical in design, with only a few ridge areas, or your cake may look better than it tastes.