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Melbourne is back in lockdown and I have been finding solace in the kitchen. During the lengthy lockdown of 2020, developing recipes, photographing and writing “Istria” kept me occupied; this time it is cooking. In addition to working my way through my mother’s hand-written recipes, I have pulled some of my cookbooks off the shelf and will be writing a few blog posts through the winter featuring recipes from those. Those of you who have been to my house will know I have A LOT of cookbooks. One of my oldest and favourites is The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. I have a paperback edition from 1995 that has a couple of drawings and unlike today’s cookbooks, no photographs. I love Marcella’s cakes; the ones I like to cook are not rich or complex. They make perfect coffee and tea cakes. Last year I became obsessed with her polenta shortcake; this year it is her walnut cake. I know I posted a recipe for a walnut and honey cake last month, as apart from almonds, walnuts are my favourite nuts, in both savoury and sweet dishes. I firmly believe that you can never have too many recipes for apple cakes or walnut cakes! And I love buying them whole and shelling them myself; it reminds me of sitting at the kitchen table with my mother, as this is what we did often when they were in season.

When the winter sun shines, there is beautiful light on the dining room table for a couple of hours. We have been having special lockdown lunches as Mark is working from home, and sitting down to a set table at any time between noon and 2 o’clock, depending on his work meetings. On sunny days, when it is time for our post-lunch espresso and our sweet treat, the light makes delightful shadows at the spot where we eat lunch. It is a perfect photography opportunity on the beautiful linen tablecloth that I purchased from Bonnie and Neil.

I have made this cake twice during the past week; my first version was almost exactly like Marcella’s, but I changed the second version quite a bit; not the method, but the ingredients. If you want to make Marcella’s version, leave out the sultanas, orange zest and coffee, and add lemon zest and white rum instead. Here is a link to a post that has Marcella’s recipe on it. I love adding the grappa/brandy soaked sultanas to the cake, they keep it moist, adding complexity and sweetness. If you find the taste of spirits too strong, soak the sultanas in warm water for at least 15 minutes then drain before using. It is a dense, not overly sweet cake. If you make it, please let me know what you think.

walnut and orange cake

250g shelled walnuts
130g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature and diced
1 egg
45ml room temperature strong espresso
1 small orange, zest only
2 heaped tablespoons natural sultanas
grappa or brandy (for soaking the sultanas)
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
120g plain flour
pinch fine salt

Place the sultanas in a jar and cover with grappa or brandy and soak for at least 6 hours (or overnight).

Turn the oven on to 160C conventional. Place the walnuts on an over tray and roast for 5 minutes. Remove and once cooled, place in a food processor with a tablespoon of the sugar and pulse so that a coarse crumb forms, leaving a couple of larger walnuts pieces is fine. Increase the oven to 180C. Grease and line the base and sides of a 20cm spring-form cake tin.

Place the butter and the remaining sugar in the food processor and process until creamy. Drop in the egg, coffee and orange zest and process until well combined. Scrape into a clean bowl then add the walnuts and drained sultanas and stir until combined. Place the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl and hand whisk to combine then stir that into the cake batter. Scrape into the prepared cake tin and bake for about 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Enjoy at room temperature or slightly warm with a cup of espresso. Store in an air tight container at room temperature for 3 or 4 days.

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