This rich, full-flavored spice cake is well worth the effort (and time) it takes to make. Not incidentally, the candied walnuts are delicious on their own. Make a batch for snacking, topping ice cream, or for decorating other desserts.
Note that the frosting is based on classic caramel sauce and, as such, you should exercise caution when working with the hot sugar—get out the long-handled wooden spoon and thick potholders.
The complex, nutty flavors of this cake are echoed by a 30-year or 40-year Tawny Port; recommended producers include Graham’s, Quinta do Noval and Dow’s.
- For the candied walnuts
- 1 1/2 cups walnut halves (about 6 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 4 teaspoons dark rum
- For the cake
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1 cup milk
- 1/4 cup dark rum
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup chopped walnuts (about 4 ounces)
- For the caramel frosting
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
To make the candied walnuts: In a bowl, toss the walnut halves with both sugars and the salt. Spread in a single layer in a shallow roasting pan just large enough to hold them. Scatter the pieces of butter over the nuts and sprinkle with the rum. Roast for 10 to12 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring the nuts and shaking the pan 2 or 3 times during roasting. For darker nuts, roast for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Spread the nuts on a plate or tray to cool and use right away, or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
To make the cake: Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and lightly flour the bottom and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans. Cut a piece of parchment or wax paper to fit in the bottoms of the pans. Insert the paper rounds and butter and lightly flour them.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, cloves, nutmeg, baking powder, salt, ginger and allspice. In a glass measuring cup or bowl, stir together the milk and rum.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one. Reduce the mixer to medium-low and add some of the milk mixture, alternating with some of the flour mixture, until well combined. Stir in the chopped walnuts.
With a rubber spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly between them. Smooth the surface of the pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the layers comes out clean and the cakes spring back when gently pressed and pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the cakes cool on wire racks for 10 minutes. Turn them out onto the racks and let cool completely.
To make the frosting: Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and water. Set aside.
In a large heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice and cook over medium-high heat for 8 to10 minutes, or until the mixture turns amber. Stir this mixture for the first 2 minutes with a wooden spoon but once the sugar melts, stop stirring and only tilt the pan to insure even cooking. Take care; the sugar is very hot. (If the sugar burns, turns dark, and smells acrid, discard it and start again.)
Remove the pan from the heat and slowly and carefully pour 1/2 cup of the heavy cream into the pan. It will bubble and foam. Stir with a long-handled wooden spoon until the bubbling subsides and it’s smooth and well blended. Add the rum and stir well.
Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat for about 5 minutes, or until the caramel lightens in color and thickens further. Scrape into a small bowl and set aside.
In a clean bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and set on medium-high speed, beat the remaining 1 1/2 cups of cream until stiff. Add the reserved caramel to the cream and whip just until blended and the frosting is spreadable. The caramel will deflate the whipped cream but it will hold its body. Do not overbeat or the frosting will separate. Refrigerate for up to 30 minutes until needed.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process about two-thirds of the candied walnuts until coarsely ground. Reserve the best looking, largest walnuts to decorate the cake.
Trim the cake layers with a long, serrated knife to insure they are even. Put one layer on a cake plate and spread frosting over the top of the cake layer. Sprinkle with about a third of the walnuts and using the back of a spoon or a rubber spatula, gently press the nuts into the frosting.
Top with the remaining cake layer. Using a long, metal spatula, spread the rest of the frosting over the top and down the sides of the cake. Decorate the top and sides of the cake with the rest of the chopped walnuts and then with the reserved whole walnuts halves.