I’ve been dreaming for so long about having my own walnut tree in the garden. Now I have two, one more established than the other, and both too young to actually give us any walnuts. It is that time of the year when they need a little care before they go dormant for the winter. They both look so thin and vulnerable. It says on the RHS website ‘crops are unreliable north of the Midlands’. So there is hope that they will like it here in North Wales.
Whilst I look after them, making sure that the base is well covered with autumn leaves and dried grass, my thoughts drift away to the walnut tree that my family had in the garden, back home in Romania. We didn’t plan to have one. My dad said that a crow must have dropped a nut from the air, and here it was, this elongated little plant started to grow taller and taller. For the first 3-4 years, it looked just like a stick all the time (exactly like my trees now).
There was something symbolic about it. There is a belief in the countryside that if you want a special event (such as the birth of a child) to have an auspicious beginning and a prosperous future, you plant a walnut tree in the garden. This is what happened to us. It was something new, that involved the entire family. We were building a new cottage to replace the old house that was crumbling down, so my grandmother had a better place to live in. The tree started to grow exactly when we began the works.
In my memories, ‘nucul’ will always be associated with those exciting times, making plans, walking on the footprint of the house, imagining where the furniture would go, choosing our favourite spots and fighting over who would have the comfortable armchair by the fire.
New beginnings taste of walnuts in my world. Thirty years later, I am making this walnut cake to celebrate a send-off. I’m sending my book to print. May it have an auspicious journey and come back to me in the form of a dream come true.
For the pears
• 40g butter
• 2 tbsp caster sugar
• 3 pears – diced
• 2 tbsp Calvados or brandy
For the filling
• 250g thick double cream
• 2tbsp sour cream
• 30g icing sugar
• 1 tbsp honey
For the cake:
• 4 large eggs – separated
• 150g caster sugar
• 125g walnuts, ground to a powder +25g chopped for decoration
• 25g corn flour
• 1 tsp cinnamon
• 1tsp mixed spice
• 1tsp ground instant coffee
Start by making the filling. Whip the double cream with the sugar to stiff peaks, then gently stir in the sour cream and the honey. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge to set.
Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the sugar and cook until it starts to turn golden brown. Add the diced pears and cook until just soft. Pour in the Calvados, cook for a further 5 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease 2 x 20cm diameter shallow cake tins. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale (add a tbsp of water if the mixture is too tight). Add the rest of the ingredients and combine well. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, then combine half of the quantity with the egg yolk mixture to loosen it up. Now fold in gently the remaining quantity of egg whites. Divide the batter between the two tins and bake for 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Assemble the cake by spreading half of the cream mixture and all of the pears on top of one layer. Put the other layer on top and add the rest of the cream. You can leave it like this or spread the cream down the sides. It doesn’t have to be uniform. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts on top and serve.