I like to bake. At five, I’d help Mom spoon cookie dough onto baking sheets, sneaking taste tests when I could and then peering through the hazy glass of the oven door watching my pods flatten and brown. When I turned eight, I received a copy of Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual—and at last my prowess manifested. Okay, over time and many botched recipes later, it manifested. The art of baking still appeals to me: the meticulous measurements, the gritty and gooey textures, the warm aromas. So I eagerly signed up to be our resident cookbook blogger and test and share new recipes.
Chapel Hill is just beginning to feel like fall. The humidity is disappearing and the morning and evening air have a refreshing crispness. Soon the leaves will turn and start to scatter. I thought this month I’d feature a recipe to help usher in the season.
I turned to Seasoned in the South: Recipes from Crook’s Corner and from Home by Bill Smith. This nifty cookbook is broken down into seasonal and holiday menus, and the dessert suggested for fall—one of Bill’s favorites for entertaining at home—begged to be baked.
Cashew Cake with Madame Constance’s Maple Frosting
- 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 ½ pounds raw cashews (*my note: can substitute pecans, almonds, pistachios, or hazelnuts; for my version of the recipe I used pecans)
- 3 cups sugar
- Zest of 1 large orange
- 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups egg whites (about 16 eggs, with yolks reserved for frosting) (*my note: Make sure you are careful to keep any trace of yolk out of your egg white mixture. My first batch had a bit of yolk in it and never whipped up to the right consistency, though I stubbornly kept at it for about 20 minutes!)
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ¾ cup sifted all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-inch springform pans, line them with parchment, and butter and flour the parchment.
Grind the cashews coarsely with half of the sugar and the orange zest in a food processor. Cashews are very oily, so beware that they are not ground so far as to begin to form a paste. Toss with a bit of flour to help keep the nut meal separate.
Rinse a mixing bowl with the vinegar. Swirl in the salt. Shake the bowl over the sink, but don’t wipe it out. In it, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar (*my note: I suggest beating on low for a few minutes, until the egg whites start to thicken up) and then the rest of the sugar (*my note: Very gradually add the sugar and increase the mixer speed to medium). Beat until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the nuts by thirds, and with the last third gently include the sifted flour. Divide the batter between the two cake pans.
Bake for about 1 hour. The cake should be pretty and brown and a toothpick or broom straw should come out clean when inserted at the center. Allow to cool on racks for at least 1 hour before removing the springforms.
Each cake will be a layer. The cakes must be absolutely cool before they can be iced or the icing will melt.
Madame Constance’s Maple Frosting
Yields 2 cups of frosting, enough for a two-layer cake
- 8 large egg yolks
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ cup Grade B pure maple syrup (*my note: My grocery store only had Grade A, so that’s what I used. I would say the resulting frosting is less rich, but that actually appealed to me since I don’t like icing that serves up too much of a sucker-punch!)
- 1 pound unsalted butter, cut into small bits and softened (*my note: No, that is not a typo; yes, that is quite a lot of butter! I followed the quantity specified, but when I next bake this, I will experiment using 4-8 tablespoons less. I thought the consistency seemed okay with less butter.)
Beat the egg yolks with the whisk attachment of an electric mixer for 10 minutes or so on high until they have become pale yellow. Combine the sugar and the maple syrup in a saucepan and bring them to a boil that can’t be stirred down, about 3 minutes.
Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly drizzle the maple syrup in a thin stream into the egg yolks. Aim so that you don’t hit the whisk and sling the hot sugar out into the room. Add all the syrup. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl with a spatula. Return the mixer to high speed. The egg yolks will be fairly hot, so beat the mixer until it has cooled back down to room temperature. Don’t cheat. The eggs must be cool enough so that the butter does not melt when added to them. When the side of the mixing bowl feels cool, add the butter, bit by bit, until it is all absorbed.
This recipe will make enough frosting to put between the layers and to ice the outside of the two cashew layers. Needless to say, this is very sweet, so sometimes I put barely sweetened whipped cream between the layers and on top of the cake and only use the frosting on the sides. The extra frosting will refrigerate fairly well for a week if tightly wrapped in plastic. It must be softened very slowly at room temperature and applied with a warm knife or spatula.
This cake made its debut at a birthday party, where it had a lot of desserts to compete with. But I feel like it held its own. The nuts add an interesting dynamic and the orange zest offsets the sweet maple frosting wonderfully. If you’re looking for pairings for a complete menu, you might try it with Baked Sweet Potato Soup, Mashed Rutabagas, and Pork Roast with Sauerkraut—or any of the other savory recipes Bill Smith lists for fall!