Saturday, August 08, 2015

Great British Bake Along: Frosted Walnut Cake

I have decided to have another go at joining in with Great British Bake Off, by baking the technical challenge from each episode. Do let me know if you are doing something similar, I'd love to see other people's creations!

So this week was Mary's frosted walnut cake, and I was pretty pleased with the final result. As I'm doing this with the hope of learning a few things along the way I thought I would share with you some of the lessons this recipe taught me.

1. I had forgotten how involved the recipes from the show are. This took me two and a quarter hours of pretty much non-stop baking, although I would also point out that it was a fairly relaxed effort, ambling around the kitchen, trying to answer questions on mastermind and sipping red wine. I was aching by the end though! Between a few hours of being on my feet (my desk job really shows!) and the lengthy session of whisking for the icing, I slept well last night.

2. I had also forgotten just how messy these recipes are, and I wonder if they have help with the washing up on the show! This required three cake tins, five bowls, multiple whisks, two pans, a chopping board and silicone sheet, as a minimum. Which meant I also learnt that I should check the dishwasher before I start, as ours was full and I hadn't turned it on. So at ten o'clock last night The Husband got roped into helping me wash up, which I think he sensed had been coming all along!

3. There is no consideration given to nutrition. There is over three quarters of a pound of butter and over two pounds, yes that's two pounds of sugar. By the end of the evening, having licked one too many spoons during the making, the thought of actually eating the cake set my teeth on edge. I have to say though, when I did indulge in a slice today, it is quite well balanced, as the cake itself is not overly sweet, and the slightly bitter flavour of the walnuts helps to cut through the sugar.

4. I learnt to make caramel! I had the heat turned up and down and up and down in a serious bout of indecision but it got there in the end. I even inadvertently made some spun sugar as I flailed the spoon around which excited me greatly. I also learnt that the the best way to clean a pan covered in hardened caramel is simply to fill it with water and boil, it just melts away. That impressed me even more than the spun sugar! I also recommend making spare caramelised walnuts with any leftover caramel. They are somewhat addictive, and may well have contributed to my sugar rush at the end of the night (see number 3).

5. I learnt that if I take too long doing anything, Millie likes to curl up on my feet. Generally it is quite comforting, but this morning we noticed a particularly sticky tuft of hair on her back so I fear she got inadvertently iced during the process.

6. I also learnt to make meringue icing for the first time, I think. It wasn't gritty or granular which I was pleased about, but I was waiting for it to form stiff peaks and it never did. It got thick, but after fifteen minutes of (meek) whisking over a pan of hot water I was hot and bothered and gave up! I worried it would drip off the cake but it seemed to just about stay put, and has set nicely in the fridge overnight. Hurrah!

7. Which brings me nicely to my final lesson. I learnt that it is important, when decorating your cake on your pretty floral cake stand because it will look colourful in the pictures for your blog, to think about whether said cake stand will actually fit in the fridge. As it turned out, it wouldn't. Cue a three implement, two person manoeuvre involving me, The Husband, a cake slice, a spatula and a wooden spoon, and some delicate teamwork trying to transfer a three tier cake covered in soft, not quite set icing onto a plate that would fit on the shelf overnight. I am very glad to say it was a success, much to Millie's disappointment as she hovered beneath us licking her lips with hope in her eyes.

I really enjoyed my Friday night of baking, and I just need to locate some willing testers to donate the leftovers to, as it is a fairly substantial cake! Next week is arlettes, which I have never heard of, but they looked beautiful and delicate on the clip at the end of the last episode. They also apparently involve making reverse puff pastry. Having never made puff pastry in the normal direction, let alone in reverse, we could be in for a long night.

Mary Berry's Frosted Walnut Layer Cake
Recipe reproduced from BBC Food

Makes one large, three tier cake. Prep time 30 minutes. Cooking time 60 minutes (ish).


For the sponges
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100g walnuts
  • 225g butter, softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
For the caramelised walnuts
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 10 walnut halves
For the buttercream
  • 125g butter
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 2 tbspn milk
  • 1/2 tspn vanilla extract
For the meringue icing
  • 350g caster sugar
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 tspn cream of tartar

  • Preheat the oven to 160C/140C Fan. Grease three 20cm cake tins and line the bases with baking paper.
  • Sift the flour into a bowl and add the baking powder. Finely chop the walnuts and add to the flour.
  • In a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy Beat the four eggs in a separate dish and then slowly stir into the butter and sugar mixture, a little at a time.
  • Fold in the flour mixture with a metal spoon until well combined. Split it equally between the three cake tins and level the surface.
  • Place in the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the top of the cakes is lightly brown and slightly springy to the touch. Lift out and leave to cool for a few minutes, then turn out onto wire racks and remove the baking paper from the bases. Leave to cool.
  • While the cake is in the oven make the caramelised walnuts. Place the sugar and water in a pan, and cook on a low heat without stirring until the sugar melts into a liquid. Continue to cook on a high heat until the liquid turns a dark brown colour, then immediately remove from the heat and add the walnuts. Quickly place the walnuts onto a silicone baking sheet to set. *As you more than likely know, molten sugar is hot and dangerous so please be very careful* (To clean the pan after the caramel has set, simply fill with water and bring to the boil, the caramel will melt into the water and you can then tip it away!)
  • To make the buttercream, beat the butter with half of the sugar, the vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon of the milk. Add the remaining sugar, beat well, and use the other tablespoon of the milk, if required to bring the buttercream to the correct consistency.
  • Once the cake has cooled, spread one layer with half of the buttercream. Place a second layer on top and spread with the remaining buttercream and then place the final layer on top.
  • Finally (!) to make the icing, place the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in a heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of hot water, on a medium heat, and whisk well for 8 (to 15) minutes until the mixture is thick and glossy. 
  • Using a spatula, cover the cake in the icing in swirls across the top and sides, working quickly before it sets. Place the walnuts on top, relax, ask for help with the washing up, and then serve.


  1. Fantastic!! What an enormous amount of work it must have been!! They must surely have help on GBBO with the washing up I always thought, but then I saw one of the lady contestants drying up some pans in the background of a shot this week, so perhaps not! EEEKKKK!!!! xx

    1. thanks amy! I spotted her washing up too, so I did wonder!! If there were marks for being clean and organised I'd never get past the first week! xx

  2. Gosh!! That was some baking project you undertook Katie; the result looks fabulous! Walnut cake is one of my favourites... happy to be a willing tester. Can I have a piece with a big walnut on the top, please?? :D :D

    1. thank you Ellie! It was great fun, though I don't think the icing would travel well!! There was serious competition for the walnuts in our family! xx

  3. Wow! This looks fabulous, Katie! Bet it tastes amazing too xx

    1. thanks Jane, it was a nice cake!!

  4. This has really inspired me to try a few of the technical bakes. This cake looks absolutely amazing Katie, I love anything with nuts in it so would probably love this! X

    1. thanks Penny! do let us know how you get on xx

  5. That's such a good idea, to try the technical bake each week. Even better in the comfort of your own kitchen with a glass of red wine. I like the look of this but it does look like a huge amount of work. But still, yum. x

    1. it's a good way of learning things I would never normally make the effort to try, though they are fairly fancier than my normal attempts at baking! x