When my oven was out of commission, ‘shop bought’ cakes became an occasional thing.

Carrot cake we liked, as it’s not one I would usually bake. A chocolate sponge would be another purchase. A little dry, perhaps? Tom’s answer was to poke holes all over the top and dribble in a little malt whisky.

He also took a fancy to the simple little walnut cake from M&S and asked me to pick one up in South End Green the other day.

Even though I now have an oven once more, I haven’t yet got back into the baking habit - so I decided to make a walnut cake.

Hackney Gazette: Walnut cake is a comforting taste of childhood for FrancesWalnut cake is a comforting taste of childhood for Frances (Image: Frances Bissell)

It reminds me a little of the cakes my mum used to make, nothing fancy but very moreish. She would never have dreamed of putting a cake on the table that she hadn’t baked.

As a child, I used to envy my friends whose mothers bought bread and cakes because they seemed so much posher than homemade.

Imagine turning my nose up at burnished golden loaves sitting cooling on the dresser, when I would get home from the village primary school on Friday afternoon!

Next to the loaves would always be a cake; a fruit loaf; a dark, treacly ginger cake, and often a walnut cake, to be served at teatime over the weekend.

I still love tea and cake in the afternoon and am happy to continue mum’s baking traditions. For the walnut cake I think coffee sometimes went into the butter cream.

But amongst our ‘stickies’ I found a bottle of Nocino, the powerful walnut liqueur from Emilia Romagna, so used that in my version of the cake.

Praise indeed, it was declared even better than ‘shop bought’; it certainly looks like it.

Hackney Gazette: A dusting of icing sugar on top and two layers of butter cream make a delicious treatA dusting of icing sugar on top and two layers of butter cream make a delicious treat (Image: Frances Bissell)

Walnut cake


100 g unsalted butter

175 g golden caster or soft brown sugar

3 eggs, lightly beaten

175 g self-raising flour

75 g roughly ground walnuts

Vanilla essence

Milk – see recipe

Butter cream:

150 g unsalted butter, softened

Icing sugar – see recipe

Espresso, Nocino or other walnut liqueur - optional


Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Butter and flour a loaf tin.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Alternately add eggs and flour, beating in the eggs, folding the flour in gently. Stir in the walnuts and a drop or two of vanilla essence. You might need to add a spoonful or two of milk to loosen the mixture slightly.

Spoon into the loaf tin. Smooth the top and bake for about 35 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool the cake in the tin for 25 to 30 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To finish, slice the cake twice horizontally and fill with butter cream, made by mixing the butter with enough icing sugar to make a smooth cream. You might want to sift the icing sugar to obtain a smooth cream.

Add nocino or coffee you wish.

A light dusting of icing sugar is all that the cake needs now. Alternatively, spread a coffee glaze ( espresso mixed with sifted icing sugar) over the cake and top with walnut halves.

Cook’s notes: as always, have your butter and eggs at roughly the same temperature. Sometimes I forget, and my nicely softened butter, creamed smoothly into the sugar, reacts to the addition of fridge-cold egg, by separating into globules of chilled butter.

Recently I adapted this recipe to use hazelnuts, which worked very well. Slightly less oily than walnuts, the cake batter needed an extra spoonful of milk. A filling of chocolate ganache or white chocolate cream is the perfect match for hazelnut.

(C) Frances Bissell 2024. All rights reserved.