- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

California walnuts account for 99 percent of the commercial U.S. supply and two-thirds of the world supply. The harvest began at the end of August and ends in November.

Most folks are surprised to find out that California walnuts account for so much of the supply.

Most walnuts that we eat are a hybrid of the English (Persian) walnut. They are the only nut that contains a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids, so we can relax and enjoy them, knowing that studies have shown that they are good for us.

A walnut tree takes about four years after planting to produce its first major crop.

I am partial to walnut halves, chopped and tossed into pates, salads, rice, vegetables and pasta. I love the toasty creamy flavor that walnuts impart in desserts like chocolate walnut caramel tart (a family favorite) or walnut cookies.

I stumbled upon this cake idea years ago when I was reading about different uses for olive oil and saw a recipe for an olive oil cake. Why not? If butter or oil would work in most cakes, why not combine olive oil with its fruity flavor with the distinct taste of walnuts to create an unusual cake? Turns out that Italians have been using olive oil in their cake baking for centuries.

Olive oil and walnuts may seem like a strange dessert combination, but they shine in this light dessert cake. The orange juice adds just the right contrast in flavor to the walnuts and heightens the fruity extra-virgin olive oil flavor. The cake becomes slightly crispy on the outside while remaining moist and rustic textured on the interior.

It is important to use a good quality olive oil that has a fruity flavor. A good way to find an olive oil you like is to visit a market or specialty store that has an olive oil bar for tasting. You can try out a number of different styles and varieties that can be very helpful in developing your olive oil preferences.

I like a full-bodied extra virgin oil with a deep, rich flavor. A pure olive oil may be good for sauteing but won’t hold up in the taste department for this recipe — extra virgin is the way to go here.

Extra virgin olive oils are cold-pressed, rich and full-flavored. Pure olive oils, which have been heated and pressed to extract the last bit of oil, are milder in flavor. A cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil is usually fruity, green and redolent of olive.

This is often my fall-back dessert when I have little time but want big flavor. Depending upon the season, I will serve the cake with a compote of fresh sliced strawberries, oranges or even peaches.

The olive oil and orange juice have a secondary benefit — keeping the cake moist up to a day after baking. In fact, this cake seems to taste better the day after it’s made.

Help is on the way:

•: Use a microplaner — available at fine cooking stores — for zesting the orange.

• If you have any leftover cake — which is doubtful — serve it with tea for an interesting breakfast cake or afternoon teatime.

• Always refrigerate or freeze any remaining nuts to retain their freshness; it’s best to toast them after they have been chilled to bring out their innate flavor.

• Use a chef’s knife and a wooden board to chop the nuts finely or coarsely; use a food processor when you want to grind them.

Walnut, olive oil and orange cake

Olive oil, for baking pan

6 ounces chopped walnuts

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

4 medium eggs

1½ cups sugar

Zest of 1 medium orange, finely chopped

Juice of 1 medium orange, about ½ cup

½ cup olive oil

Powdered sugar, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 9-inch springform pan with olive oil.

Process the walnuts in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until they are finely ground, almost like bread crumbs.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ground walnuts, flour and baking powder and set aside.

With an electric mixer on medium speed or in a food processor with the metal blade, beat the eggs until they are frothy. Slowly add the sugar and beat the mixture until it is light, thick and lemon colored. Slowly add the flour mixture and then add the orange zest, orange juice and olive oil, mixing just to combine.

Pour the mixture into the springform pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool and remove the sides of the pan. Place the cake on a serving platter or cake plate and sprinkle powdered sugar in a decorative pattern on top. Slice and serve.

Makes 8 servings.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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