California Walnut Cake Is a Seriously Simple Dessert

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Many people are surprised to learn that California walnuts account for 99 percent of the commercial U.S. supply and two-thirds of the world supply. Personally, I love the toasty, creamy flavor that walnuts deliver in desserts.

I once came upon this cake idea, combining olive oil and walnuts. Olive oil in a cake? Why not? Italians have been using olive oil in their cake baking for centuries. I developed this recipe years ago and still make it when a light dessert is preferred.

Combining olive oil and walnuts here is a delicious blend of flavors. The orange juice adds just the right contrast to the walnuts and heightens the fruity extra-virgin olive oil. The olive oil and orange juice also keep the cake moist up to a day after baking. In fact, this cake seems great the day after it’s made and I take pleasure in the cake’s slightly crispy exterior while its interior remains moist.

Use a full-bodied extra virgin with a deep, rich flavor. A pure olive oil is good for sauteing but isn’t right for this recipe—extra-virgin is preferred. Extra-virgin olive oils are cold-pressed, rich, and full-flavored. They can often be a bit peppery, which adds another flavor dimension to the cake.

A cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil is usually fruity, green and has a mild olive fragrance. If you aren’t sure, ask the oil specialist at your market for suggestions.

I serve the cake in the summer with a compote of fresh sliced strawberries, other berries, or peaches.

California Walnut Cake

Serves 8


  • 6 ounces chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • Zest of 1 medium orange
  • Juice of 1 medium orange, about 1/2 cup
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Powdered sugar, for garnish
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries, cleaned, hulled and sliced, to accompany


1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Oil a 9-inch springform pan with olive oil. Process the walnuts In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, until they are finely ground, almost like breadcrumbs. In a medium mixing bowl combine the ground walnuts, flour and baking powder and set aside.

2. With an electric mixer on medium speed or in a food processor with a metal blade, beat the eggs until they are frothy. Slowly add the sugar and beat the mixture until it is light, thick and lemon colored. Slowly add the flour mixture and then add the orange zest, orange juice and olive oil, mixing just to combine.

3. Pour the mixture into the springform pan and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool and remove the sides of the pan. Place the cake on a serving platter or cake plate and sprinkle powdered sugar in a decorative pattern on top. Slice and serve with fresh sliced strawberries.

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