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Humble, nutty, and chez moi: un gateau aux noix

Les Eyzies-de-Tayac is a village nestled under a cliff alongside the Vézère River in the beautiful Dordogne region of southwestern France. The self-proclaimed “capitale mondiale de la préhistoire,” it boasts a supremely boring (but, I understand, newly revamped) museum of prehistory and a nameless café where I bought some Orangina and used the bathroom. Most importantly, however, it was in Les Eyzies that I had my first taste of a gâteau aux noix, a French walnut cake.

It was October 1999, and I was a month into my two-quarter stay in France as a student in the Stanford-in-Paris program. Thanks to Helen Bing, a truly worship-worthy Stanford donor, we students hopped a train down to Brive-la-Gaillarde and spent a weekend Dordogne-ing with luxury accommodations for a grand total of roughly $40 each. My friend Clare and I were assigned a ridiculously extravagant suite à la française and spent each evening marveling at our good fortune and happily yelling goodnight to each other from our bedrooms at opposite ends of a long, marble-lined hallway.

Other highlights of the trip included:
-a chilly late-night tour of the town of Sarlat, followed by much dancing in a tight, smoky bar to shameful hits such as “Mambo Number Five” and “Tomber la Chemise;”
-befriending Gui, my dear, gorgeous, long-lost Brazilian and one of the flakiest people I’ve ever adored;
-befriending my dear Keaton;
-watching Gui run frantically around the very old Château de Beynac, trying to stay warm on a nippy morning;
-the decadent multi-course feasts of this region known for its truffles, cèpes, and foie gras (the last of which I’m undecided on but strive to avoid);
-and a dinner of pain de son (bran bread) and Peanut M&Ms on the train-ride back to Paris.

But five years later, it’s the walnut cake that haunts me. It had been baked at our hotel and plastic-wrapped in individual wedges for us to take on our day’s sightseeing, and I ate it perched atop a large, sunny rock in a park in Les Eyzies. Nothing fancy, it was a dense-crumbed white cake flecked with brown, humble, nutty, and only faintly sweet. Nothing fancy, it was delicious.

Last July, I found a recipe for it in Gâteaux de Mamie, but an eager trial run resulted in an oddly rubbery, leaden cake that made it no further than the trashcan. After a sufficient hiatus, this week I tried again, turning instead to a Saveur recipe dug up online in a moment of reprieve from a tedious editing task. Calling for walnut oil and white wine, it intrigued me, but I was a bit unsure of the potent, fruity aroma of fermented grapes and toasted nuts that wafted from the oven.

I needn’t have worried.

It was nothing fancy; it was delicious; and I ate a quarter of it on the spot, thinking of Gui and Clare and Keaton and the autumnal colors of a river valley thousands of miles away.

Gâteau aux Noix, or French-Style Walnut Cake
Adapted slightly from Saveur Cooks Authentic French

½ cup chopped walnuts, or a touch more
3 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup walnut oil
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350. Place walnuts in a small dry saucepan and toast over medium heat, shaking pan, until nuts are fragrant, 5-10 minutes. Set aside.

Beat eggs in a medium bowl with an electric mixer. Gradually add sugar and beat until mixture is pale yellow, light, and fluffy. Add walnut oil and wine and mix well.

Generously grease a 9” cake pan (I used an 8-inch with no problem, by the way; your cake will just be a bit thicker). Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into a large bowl. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. Gently fold in walnuts, and then pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake cake until a toothpick can be inserted and pulled out clean, about 40 minutes (mine took only 35, however, and required a bit of tenting with foil for the last five). Remove from oven, cool for ten minutes, and then turn out onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely and serve in wedges. Loosely whipped cream would be a nice accompaniment, if possible.


Blogger Pusekatt said...

That sounds so yummy! I love nutty things and this recipe sounds pretty simple. May just have to give it a try...once I stop working 15 hour days :-P

8:07 PM, October 28, 2004  
Anonymous grignote et barbotine said...

Je suis bien d'accord avec toi, ce gateau est absolument délicieux !
Nostalgique ?

8:45 AM, December 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was wondering...how does this cake keep? can i make it a day or two ahead of time? looks really yummy.

8:55 AM, February 04, 2008  
Blogger Molly said...

Anonymous, I'd guess that this cake would keep just fine for up to three days or so. The fresher it is, the better, but yes, you can certainly make it a day or so ahead.

Hope that helps!

1:30 PM, February 04, 2008  
Anonymous KathyM said...

I recently made this to help use up an over abundance of walnuts. I used La Tourangelle roasted walnut oil. The cake was just as good as you described. I visited the La Tourangelle website to find more walnut oil recipes and found a recipe for apple walnut cake. I just wanted to share my discovery with you. The apple macerates in brandy and results in a moist, fragrant, delicious cake. In fact, I think I'm going to go and make it again.

8:01 PM, December 29, 2008  
Anonymous Mathilde said...


Im french and I love walnut cake =)
Your blog is perfect and your pictures are beautiful!

12:11 PM, October 22, 2010  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

After reading your posts intermittently, I decided to go back to the earlier posts and start at the beginning. (that probably makes me sound a bit weird, but i have a ridiculously boring job) I noticed that this post was when your pictures started to take on that ethereal saturated (beautiful) look...did you change cameras? And if so, what do you shoot with? My husband and I are notorious for our dark, shaky, vague pictures of delicious dishes in low lit restaurants and I thought it might be nice to start taking some better pictures of our cooking at home. Thank you for all of your words...

3:04 PM, December 08, 2010  
Blogger Molly said...

Elizabeth, it's been so long since you left your comment that I'm not sure if you'll see this, but if so, here's the lowdown. (And apologies for my lateness! December was a mess.)

This picture was taken with an old point-and-shoot film camera that I had at the time. This was before I got my first digital camera in December of 2004 - and before I then ditched digital and went back to shooting film in April of 2008. From late 2004 to summer of 2006, I shot with a Sony Cybershot point-and-shoot digital, and then I got a fancier digital camera, a Nikon D70s. But after a while, I felt frustrated with digital. It tends to flatten things, and it just doesn't work with light the way film does. So, in 2008, I started using film again. For the blog, I use mostly old Polaroid cameras and instant film. I also use an old Nikon FE (35mm) and a Hasselblad 500c/m, both film cameras.

That's probably way more than you wanted to know, but I hope it's at least a little bit helpful? I hope.

8:01 PM, January 08, 2011  
Blogger HadleyEG said...

I made this yesterday, and it was just lovely! and SO easy!

9:38 AM, March 20, 2011  
Anonymous KateS said...

I returned from the Dordogne three days ago, and, have spent those three days dreaming of gateaux au noix. Your recipes never disappoint, so I cannot wait to give this one a go. Merci!

10:47 AM, June 13, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi - just want to check, do you need to line the tin with greaseproof paper? Look forward to trying this!

5:59 AM, September 05, 2013  
Blogger maria said...


I just stumbled upon this post (regular, more recent, reader) and felt compelled to inform you that when I was a high school exchange student in Belgium in 2009, we also danced to "Tomber la Chemise" in tight, smokey bars. So maybe your taste was a little more timeless than originally thought? Or maybe ours was just particularly bad...

Anyway, love the site, the stories, and the food,

9:10 PM, April 01, 2015  

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