This coffee and walnut loaf cake, based on an easy pound cake recipe by Rose Levy Beranbaum, is rich and incredibly tender. Drizzle with coffee glaze, if desired, for more sweetness and an extra coffee kick.
Instead of the traditional creaming method, we’ll be using the two stage method today for mixing the batter. It’s easy, it’s quick, and produces cakes with an amazing texture!
What Is Pound Cake?
Pound Cake, or quatre quarts (four quarters) as it is known in France, is traditionally composed of four ingredients in equal weights (a pound): flour, sugar, butter and eggs.
Traditional pound cakes are generally made without a leavening agent (baking powder/soda), yielding a cake that is rather dense. Most bakers nowadays will generally tweak the original recipe, to produce a sweeter, moister and slightly lighter cake.
The pound cake batter is usually mixed through the creaming method: the butter and sugar are mixed together until light and fluffy (several minutes). You can then mix in the eggs, before adding the sifted dry ingredients. If there are liquids in the recipe (milk, buttermilk), they are added by alternating with the flour.
Overmixing cake batter through this method however can lead to a tough and rubbery cake from excessive gluten formation. The two stage method on the other hand allows you to mix for longer and still get a tender cake.
Mixing The Batter: The Two Stage Method
The two stage method (aka blending or pastry blend method) consists in:
- Mixing the dry ingredients with the fat and a little bit of liquid. By doing this, the fat coats the flour proteins, shielding them from the liquids in the batter. Less gluten is formed, leading to a more tender cake.
- Adding the remaining liquids: The remaining liquids are added in two additions.
What is gluten? Gluten is formed when the flour proteins (glutenin and gliadin) come into contact with water. Gluten provides structure to baked goods. Too much gluten however will produce a tough, rubbery cake.
The two stage method can be used for high ratio cakes, which contain more sugar than flour (or at least an equal amount). This method was traditionally used for cakes that contained shortening instead of butter. Rose Levy Beranbaum made this technique popular for cakes with butter in her book “The Cake Bible”.
For this method to work properly, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The importance of temperature
The ingredients should all be at room temperature, ideally between 18-21°C (65-70°F) for a good emulsion. If one of the ingredients is too cold, you’ll end up with a curdled mixture.
The importance of mixing time
The two stage method limits the formation of gluten, yielding tender cakes. But there should still be enough gluten formed to hold the cake together. This is where the mixing time comes into play. Once the dry ingredients are moistened (with the butter and part of the liquid), you need to mix for 1 minute on medium speed.
When you beat the dry ingredients with the butter: 1) You incorporate air into the batter, yielding a lighter cake. 2) A little bit of gluten is formed, giving structure to the cake.
Scraping the bowl regularly
Scrape down the sides of the bowl regularly, to ensure your batter is properly mixed and smooth.
Now that we know what the two-stage method is, let’s take a look at the ingredients.
- Flour: The flour will give structure to the cake. The original recipe calls for cake flour. Cake flour is a low protein flour (6-8%) which means less gluten is formed. Using cake flour will yield a soft and tender cake with a fine crumb. Since it isn’t readily available to all, I’ve replaced it with all-purpose flour and cornstarch, which adds tenderness to cakes. Use whichever flour you prefer.
- Sugar: For sweetness and flavor. The sugar will also contribute to the tenderness of the crumb by interfering with gluten formation.
- Baking powder: For a little bit of rise and a lighter cake.
- Salt: A little bit of salt will enhance all the flavors.
- Butter: For richness, flavor and tenderness. Use room temperature butter, ideally at a temperature of about 18°C (65°F). You should be able to press the butter with your finger and leave a dent. If the butter is too cold, you’ll have trouble combining it with the other ingredients. If the butter is too soft or feels very greasy, it’s probably too warm. And you might end up with a greasy cake.
- Eggs: For structure. The egg yolks will also add richness and flavor and will help achieve a smoother batter. Make sure the eggs are at room temperature so that you can easily combine them with the other ingredients.
- Milk: We’ll be using just a little bit of milk, for moisture and flavor.
Flavorings and add-ins
- Flavorings: You’ll need instant coffee powder. I prefer to dissolve it first in the milk. But you could add it to the dry ingredients if you prefer. We’ll also flavor the cake with vanilla extract.
- Walnuts: We’ll be breaking shelled walnuts into small pieces and mixing them with flour, to prevent them from sinking. Keep an eye out for small pieces of walnut shells that might have been overlooked. You can add as many or as little walnuts as you’d like. The nuts are less likely to sink to the bottom of the cake if you toast them first. I have to admit I usually forget to toast them and I still enjoy the cake. So just go with what is more convenient and what you prefer.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (356°F, conventional setting) and place the baking tray on the middle shelf.
- Grease a 23 x 11 x 7 cm (9 x 4 1/3 x 2 3/4 inches) loaf pan and line it with parchment paper. I find it best to grease the parchment paper as well. If you’re not sure how to line the pan, you can find step-by-step pictures in the marble cake recipe. And if you don’t want to line the pan, grease and flour it instead.
Prepare the egg mixture
- Pour the milk in a medium-sized bowl, then mix in the instant coffee powder to dissolve it.
- Whisk in the eggs, one by one, followed by the vanilla extract. Set aside.
Mix the dry ingredients
- Place all the dry ingredients (flour, cornstarch, sugar, baking powder and salt) in a large mixing bowl.
- Using the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer), mix on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. I like to scrape the bottom of the bowl with a spatula, to make sure all the ingredients are properly mixed.
The dry ingredients are beaten with the paddle attachment for an even distribution, instead of sifting them.
Add the butter and half of the egg mixture
- Add the butter to the dry ingredients, along with half of the egg mixture. Mix on low just until combined, about 40 seconds.
- Increase the speed to medium and beat for one minute. The mixture will look lighter in color and fluffier.
- Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Add the remaining liquids
- Add half of the remaining mixture and mix on medium speed just until combined.
- Repeat with the remaining egg mixture. Don’t overmix. Don’t worry if the batter looks a bit curdled at this point.
Fold in the walnuts
- Break the walnuts into small pieces (pea sized) over a small bowl. I just do this by hand. Mix the walnuts with one teaspoon of flour.
- Gently fold into the cake batter using a spatula.
Bake the cake
- Pour into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for about 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. I generally cover the cake with a loose piece of parchment paper after 25 minutes, to prevent excessive browning.
- Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack (in the pan) for 10 minutes.
- Holding onto the parchment paper overhang, lift the cake out of the pan. Return the cake (without the paper) to the wire rack to cool completely.
- Serve as is or drizzle coffee glaze on top.
And that’s it! Hope you enjoy this cake!
More Cake Recipes
- Sfouf (Lebanese turmeric cake)
- Orange cardamom olive oil cake
- Pierre Hermé’s famous lemon cake
- Orange loaf cake
Corriher, S. O. (2008). Bakewise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking. Scribner.