Black walnuts. They really are an acquired taste. Not as popular as English walnuts, black walnuts can be a little spendy, unless you buy them still in their shells, but then their shells can stain your hands and are quite hard to crack open without at least a hammer. Plus, once you do manage to crack one open, you want to make sure you separate the nut meat from the shards of shell.
Or you can just buy them already shelled. For the previous post I did a few years ago using black walnuts, I actually bought them still in their shells, and then immediately regretted it, because I then had to go out and buy this heavy duty nut cracker. Which is now collecting dust in our storage unit.
Black walnuts have a much more bold, assertive taste and smell than regular (English) walnuts. As soon they were delivered in the mail I opened the bag right in front of Ben’s face so he could get a whiff of the assertive pungency of the nuts. He aptly described them as “the blue cheese of nuts”.
I initially was going to use chocolate in this recipe, as I’ve seen in some traditional recipes online, including the one recipe this is based off, which uses a chocolate gravy! In the end, though, I felt coffee was a great complementary flavor instead. I feel like chocolate would be too distracting or overpowering whereas coffee is more subtle. I think I made the right choice, but then again, I didn’t grow up in the Midwest or the South, so please let me know if you’ve had chocolate gravy and think that this really should have chocolate gravy with it. I feel like it would just steal the show, but I wanted the black walnuts to shine and do their thing. If you can’t find black walnut oil and/or lard, use more unsalted butter in their places. Enjoy!
coffee black walnut pound cake (adapted from Chef Sean Brock’s Heritage recipe for Black Walnut Pound Cake)
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (195 grams)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup black walnuts, pieces (90 grams), plus a few Tablespoons more for topping
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (112 grams)
1/3 cup leaf lard, room temperature (75 grams)
1 Tablespoon black walnut oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature (150 grams)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk, warm
1 Tablespoon instant coffee granules
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
for coffee black walnut glaze:
2 Tablespoons black walnut oil
3 Tablespoons very strong black coffee
1 and 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. and spray and line a 9 x 5 loaf pan (or similar sized pan) with a sheet of parchment paper that overhangs in two opposite sides. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, add the flour, baking powder, salt, and stir with a whisk several times. In a small bowl, add the black walnut pieces. Scoop up about 1/4 cup of the flour mixture and put it into the small bowl with the black walnut pieces and stir the black walnut pieces to get them coated with the flour. Set aside.
Combine the warm milk, instant coffee granules, and lemon juice together in a bowl or glass and stir until coffee granules are dissolved. Set aside. Milk mixture will curdle like buttermilk.
In a medium large bowl, cream the butter with the lard for about 30 seconds then add the black walnut oil, the sugars and beat until fluffy and lighter in color, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each egg before adding the next, then add the vanilla extract and beat again.
Add a third of the flour mixture and beat on low until most of it is moistened. Add about half the milk/lemon/coffee mixture and beat briefly again.
Add about half of the remaining flour mixture and beat again until somewhat incorporated, then add the rest of the milk/lemon/coffee mixture and beat again.
Add the rest of the flour mixture and beat on low again, then finally fold in the walnuts coated with some of the flour and any of the remaining flour in that bowl.
Pour batter into prepared pan and with the back of a spoon, level the top of the cake so that it’s level going into the oven.
Bake about 60-65 minutes until the sides are brown and the top is split or cracked in the middle.
Remove from oven and let sit for about 30 minutes at least before glazing, slicing, and serving.
Make the glaze by adding all the glaze ingredients together into a bowl and whisking them together until smooth, and adjusting the thickness or thinness by using either confectioners sugar to help thicken it, or more of any of the liquid ingredients to help make it more pourable. If it starts to solidify, you can heat it in the microwave for several seconds to get it back to a pourable consistency. Keep in mind that you do want it fairly warm or hot before placing on the cake if the cake has cooled down, otherwise it might get too cool that it won’t pour down the sides.