Suzi's Blog

Coffee-Walnut Layer Cake [Except I Used Pecans] from Retro Cakes and Cookies




So darned good. I took one look at this cake, in Retro Cakes and Cookies by Wendy Sweetser, and I had to make it. Coffee flavor and nuts. Oh, this is an English recipe and they want walnuts. Suzen is not anti-English – she’d live in London – but she’s not a walnut fan. So I made this with pecans.

Compared to American recipes, there is a lot of coffee here. In the cake and Lord knows in that frosting. I used Italian espresso powder and just the amounts specified. I got the coffee tang, but it was not over the top. The cake is moist, filled with flavor and quite sweet.

Now, in the book, there is a picture of this cake and it is well frosted. So is my cake in my picture. And that is because I doubled the amount of frosting in the recipe below. So, you have an option. Go with frosting that is more of an icing, or go for the gold. Or the brown. Or whatever.

Jeez, just go for it.

And to serve with it? Well, what else. Espresso.

Personally, I would not eat this after 9 PM at night unless you have an exam in the morning.

That picture of the cake above is one I made by combing three exposures with the HDR software from NIK, plus their special vignette effect to tone the entire picture. I think that the picture style here matches the idea of a retro recipe.

Retro Cakes and Cookies is filled with recipes from the home kitchens of Great Britain in the 50’s and 60’s. There are things here you’ve never seen or heard of before. There are things here you need to taste.

I may have made a mistake in that last paragraph. This cake may be much older than just 50’s. Older than me, even. You’ll see in the section describing how to make the cake. You don’t cream the butter, add this, then that. Oh, no. You just put everything all at once in the bowl and mix. Everything. All at once. My grandmother would have made this cake.

I wish she had.

Coffee-Walnut Layer Cake

Yield: 1 3-layer cake


For the cake:

  • Oil or butter to grease 3 cake pans
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 ⅛ cups superfine sugar
  • 4 extra-large eggs
  • 1 ¾ cups self-rising flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee dissolved in 2 tablespoon hot water, and cooled
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts [or pecans!]

For the frosting [remember, you may want to double this]:

  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water, and cooled
  • Walnut [or pecan] halves to decorate


For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease 3 8-inch layer cake pans and line the bottom with parchment.

Put the butter, sugar, eggs, self-rising flour, baking powder, and dissolved coffee in a large mixing bowl, and beat together with an electric hand mixer on low speed, or a wooden spoon, until smooth. Stir in the chopped walnuts.

Divide the mixture between the pans, spreading it in even layers and leveling the tops. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until risen and springy to the touch. Leave the cakes to cool in the pans for 5 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the frosting:

Beat the butter until soft and creamy. Gradually sift in the confectioners’ sugar, beating well after each addition. Add the dissolved coffee after three quarters of the sugar has been added.

Sandwich the cake layers with some of the buttercream, and spread the remainder on top. Decorate with a ring of walnut [or pecan] halves.


Source: Retro Cakes and Cookies by Wendy Sweetser [published by CICO Books]


Roasting Nut and Coconut

Baking, particularly cookies, often involves nuts or coconut. And there in that recipe you’ll see the suggestion that they be toasted.

My first reaction: ah, gee, do I have to? I revert to being a 6-year old told to clean up his room. The thing is, toasting these ingredients really is important to bring out their full flavor and give you the right “bite.” You’ve probably paid dearly for those nuts. Now, you don’t want to waste them.

Of course, if you are going to do it, you need to do it well and that means paying some attention to time and temperature. You can’t just put the oven on, toss things in, wait a few minutes and get the best results.

For nuts, use a 350⁰F oven and these very different times for the nuts:

Nut Type

Baking Time in Minutes

Almonds (sliced)


Almonds (whole)






Macadamia nuts




Pine Nuts





Yes, watch those tiny pine nuts. They need little time and an extra 30 seconds can give you some pretty disgusting black stones.

For coconut, pie expert Ken Haedrich suggests using a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. You want the white coconut to adopt a golden hue, which should take no more than 3-4 minutes. Ah, distractions. Just one phone call, one kid question, one issue on the side and that coconut has been cooking for five minutes and you have black carbon.

So, as a slower, safer alternative, use a cooler 325⁰F oven and a cookie sheet. I line the sheet with foil. Bake for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The golden color and perfect aroma are your clues to doneness.

Sources: Ken Haedrick in Pie and