And the first dessert out of the gate this week is Medrich's Walnut Sponge Cake. And though the title specifically mentions walnuts, you can substitute whatever nut you desire—maybe some toasted, skinned hazelnuts or almonds. Topping it with berries and cream is optional, but why deny yourself the pleasure?
- 2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) walnut or pecan halves or large pieces
- 5 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
- Finely grated zest of 1 small lemon, preferably organic or unsprayed
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1 tablespoon brandy or rum
- 1/3 plus 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
- 1 cup lightly sweetened whipped cream, and about 1 pint berries, plain or sweetened, for serving (optional)
- An 8 by 3-inch round pan with a removable bottom or an a-inch springform pan
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
By hand or in a food processor, coarsely chop 1/2 cup of the nuts. Pulse the remaining 2 cups nuts in a food processor (make sure the bowl is dry) until finely ground. Combine the nuts and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a small bowl if using a hand-held mixer), combine the egg yolks, lemon zest, vanilla, 1/3 cup of the sugar, and the salt. Beat at high speed with the whisk attachment until thick and pale yellow. Unless you have a second mixer bowl, scrape the yolks into another large bowl and set aside.
Wash the mixer bowl and whisk attachment (or beaters) and dry them. Put the egg whites and cream of tartar into the clean mixer howl (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer) and beat at medium-high speed (high speed with the hand-held) until soft peaks form when the beater is lifted. Gradually heat in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, then continue to beat at high speed until stiff but not dry peaks form when the beater is lifted.
Scrape half of the egg whites over the yolks, pour half of the nuts on top, and use a large rubber spatula to fold them in until almost completely incorporated. Repeat with the remaining egg whites and nuts, folding just until incorporated. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread it evenly.
Bake until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Cool the cake for 5 to 10 minutes in the pan on a rack. Run a thin knife around the inside ofthe pan to loosen the cake, detach the sides of the pan, and let the cake cool completely on the rack. Peel the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake.
Sift a little powdered sugar over the cake before serving, if desired. Serve plain or with whipped cream and berries. Or, omit the powdered sugar and top the cake with the cream and berries. The cake (without the cream and berries) keeps at least 3 days, wrapped airtight, at room temperature.