Danuta's Walnut Cake
It was a good cake. A really good cake. One of the many cakes that Danuta made for us over the years. Cakes and soup were her specialties and to my knowledge, there were no recipes written down, nor did we ever have exactly the same cake or the same soup twice. She had a general idea of how to make things, and she made them. If you especially liked a cake or a soup and tried to pin her down about the recipe, she would try to explain it to you, but when I attempted to follow her directions, the end product never tasted like the original, nor was it half so good.
This particular cake, Danuta told us, was a nut cake, and would we please try it and tell her how it tasted? (She never ate her own cakes and she didn't like soup!) Of course, we would be glad to do that. Bring it on, we said. It was a very unusual cake--very nutty, not too sweet, and quite moist. Would she please tell me how to make it.
Danuta: "Well, you give about 30 decos of crushed nuts."
Me (scribbling on a piece of paper): 30 decos? How many cups is that?? Never mind, I'll figure it out. What kind of nuts?
Danuta: Any kind of nuts will work. I used walnuts. (Note: walnuts grow around here in Poland, and at certain times of the year they are very, very cheap. This cake is expensive if you buy ground nut flour.)
Me: Okay, walnuts. I'll use walnuts, too. (It was a good cake.)
Danuta: This recipe has no flour, but I did give some bread crumbs.
Me (not sure I am hearing correctly): No flour? This cake has no flour? And you put bread crumbs in it?
Danuta: Yes, maybe three or four tablespoons of bread crumbs. And five eggs.
Me: Okay, ground nuts, bread crumbs, and FIVE eggs?
Danuta: Yes. You must separate them and beat the white part. Give the yellow part to the cake first, and then the white part.
Me (trying to translate this into recipe terms and scribbling some more): Okay, I think I understand. How much sugar?
Danuta: Not too much sugar. A little bit is enough.
Me: Not 30 decos?
Danuta: No, no, no! Oh, that would terrible. Just a little bit of sugar, maybe one third of a glass.
Me (writing "third cup sugar"): Okay. What else?
Danuta: You should give two spoonfuls of baking power, heaped up. Bake it until it's done, but not too hot.
Me (already knowing she doesn't have a temperature gauge on her oven): Nothing else? Just nuts, eggs, baking powder, a little sugar, and...breadcrumbs?
Danuta. Yes, I think that's everything. Was it a good cake?
Me: It was a wonderful cake! I want to know how to make it. It was practically the best cake I've ever eaten.
I tried to make that cake, and failed miserably. I didn't have my nuts ground finely enough, and I didn't understand what she meant by "bread crumbs." I just made my own, and it wasn't right. I didn't know at the time that you must buy breadcrumbs which are made from unsold, dry bread, and that they are nearly as fine as flour. After that failed attempt, I didn't try again. Danuta made the cake once or twice more, a little different each time, and never quite as good as that first one, but delicious just the same.
Now, fast forward some five years into the future. Danuta passed away two years ago, just two weeks after my youngest child, C, was born. After moving back into my home in Poland, I was sorting and cleaning, and I ran across that original, scribbled recipe. Understanding now how it was meant to be made, I tried again, and made the cake for a fellowship at our Polish church.
I changed a few things. Because I eat low-carb, and many low-carb recipes use nut flour, I knew this mostly-nuts-and-eggs cake would be fairly low carb. I left out the bread crumbs and used artificial sweetener. After making those changes, I naturally had to test the cake before serving it at church. Mmmmmm. Not bad at all! It's the kind of thing that tastes even better the second day, so when I took it to church, it disappeared in short order. Danuta knew what she was doing.
Here is the recipe, exactly as I scribbled it in pencil on the back of a sermon outline:
30 decos crushed walnuts
5 yolks, dash salt, 1/3 cup sugar} beat together
2 tsp. baking powder heaping
3-4 tbsp. bread crumbs
whip 5 egg white, mix in
It was a good cake. Thanks, Danuta.