My grandmother used to make the most divine sponge cake filled with coffee-flavoured buttercream and topped with walnuts which she arranged in a decorative pattern on top of the cake. I absolutely loved it. I distinctly remember her making it when ‘special’ guests were invited. They would be served finger-cut sandwiches, buttered brown soda bread with smoked salmon and capers (very posh… or so I thought as a 9 or 10 year old), homemade shortbread and then finally the Coffee & Walnut Sponge Cake would be served on fine china plates and eaten with dessert forks!!! There was just something so ‘grown-up’ about this cake.
Interestingly, my grandmother didn’t use coffee to flavour her cake, but instead used a coffee flavouring called Camp, which in fact was made out of chicory, which had previously gained recognition as being a coffee substitute during the Second World War. Also, the walnuts were merely used as decoration on top of the cake and weren’t included in the sponge and she always baked the cake in round sponge cake tins.
Now, I love walnuts… I mean… I REALLY love walnuts and delight in their nutty texture against the soft crumb of the sponge cake, so in my version, I have included them in the cake batter. Also, I prefer to bake my cake in a loaf tin which when cool, I then split and fill with a coffee-flavoured buttercream icing before topping off the cake with coffee-flavoured glacé icing and some whole walnuts. Perhaps the most significant difference between my cake and my grandmother’s is that I do use actual coffee to flavour it (well - coffee aficionados might dispute this) but I use espresso coffee powder, which works an absolute treat and gives that coffee ‘hit’ without all the palaver involved in grinding my own beans and brewing a pot just to make this cake!
This is a great cake and after a little tweaking over the past couple of weeks, I think that I have struck the right balance between the slight tannic bitterness of the walnuts and the roasted coffee flavour. Coffee and walnuts are a wonderful combination and particularly so in this cake!
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
150g plain flour
100g self-raising flour
4 heaped tsp of espresso coffee powder dissolved in 25ml boiling water (allowed to cool)
100g walnuts roughly chopped
60g butter, softened
120g icing sugar, sifted
2 heaped tsp of espresso coffee powder dissolve in 1tblsp boiling water (allowed to cool)
1 tsp espresso coffee powder dissolved in 2tsp boiling water
100g icing sugar
6-8 walnuts1. Preheat oven to 160C/Fan Oven 140C/Gas Mark 2. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin and set aside.
2. Place the butter and caster sugar into a large mixing bowl and beat together using a hand held electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs making sure that they are fully incorporated before adding more.
3. Sieve the two flours together and fold into the creamed mixture before adding the cooled coffee and the milk. Mix together until the coffee and milk are mixed through completely, but try not to over-mix as this will result in a heavier cake. Finally, add the chopped walnuts and mix through until well distributed.
4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface with a small spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake in the preheated oven for 50-60 minutes or until the cake is well risen and a thin skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
5. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing from the tin and placing on a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
6. When the cake is cool slice it through the centre horizontally and filly with the coffee buttercream.
7. Place all the ingredients in a medium sized bowl and beat together using a hand-held electric mixer until light and fluffy. Spread on to the cut side of the bottom half of the cake and replace the top half, sandwiching the filling in between the two layers.
8. Place all the ingredients in a small Pyrex bowl and mix together to create a lump-free slightly runny icing. Pour this evenly over the top of the filled cake and allow to naturally dribble down the sides of the cake.
9. Arrange the walnuts on top of the cake.