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Walnut-Maple Cake is nutty and nutritious

Walnut-Maple Cake with Maple Cream is loaded with big chunks of crunchy walnuts. Photo by Sue Doeden1 / 2
Walnuts contain a high concentration of those all-important omega-3 fatty acids, a special, good type of fat that our body does not manufacture. Photo by Sue Doeden2 / 2

Way before any of us had heard of omega-3 fatty acids, my mom was chopping up walnuts and adding them to anything and everything. I'm quite sure she had no idea of their nutritional benefits, but she was in love with their delicious flavor and the crunch they added to all things good.

She'd stir walnuts into cookies and quick breads. She'd grind them up and roll our favorite holiday thumbprint cookie dough in the fine nuts before baking. She'd sprinkle bits of walnuts into chip dip. Her cheese balls would always get rolled in chopped, toasted walnuts.

Each year as the holidays approached, she'd pull out the wooden nut bowl that had a spot in the middle of it to hold a nut cracker and pointed little tools for digging the nuts from their shells. She kept the bowl filled, but she always supplied us with more walnuts than any other variety.

Our family definitely ate our fair share of walnuts. But when my mom decided one day to toss walnuts into the tuna salad she was using to make sandwiches for our lunch, we all had to draw the line. Walnuts in a tuna salad sandwich was just a bit too funky for us.

These days walnuts are considered a superfood. Now we know they contain a high concentration of those all-important omega-3 fatty acids, a special, good type of fat that our body does not manufacture, not to mention the fiber, protein and potent antioxidants, other substances that are believed to reduce heart disease and cancer. A handful delivers all these important benefits. Experts have linked walnut consumption to a healthy heart, healthy bones, healthy brain and longevity. So, if you're not eating walnuts, you'd better get cracking.

It's not uncommon to find walnuts adding sophistication to green salads and texture to stuffing in a chicken breast. Their earthy flavor pairs well with both sweet and savory foods.

When you're shopping for walnuts in the shell, choose those that are heavy for their size and free of cracks. Shelled walnuts should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator to preserve their flavor. They can also be stored in the freezer for up to a year.

Walnut-Maple Cake is loaded with big chunks of crunchy walnuts. Pure maple syrup and apple cider add a mellow sweetness to the moist cake. A big dollop of freshly whipped cream sweetened with maple syrup is better than any frosting with this comforting cake. Once you taste Maple Cream, you'll want it on waffles and pancakes. You might find yourself spooning it onto your cup of morning coffee. You'll definitely want it on your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

Walnut-Maple Cake is an anytime cake. It's nice in the morning, it packs well in a lunch box, and it's a dessert your dinner guests will love when you serve it with a lashing of Maple Cream.

Mmmm, I love eating walnuts this way.

Walnut-Maple Cake with Maple Cream

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 cup butter, room temperature

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 cup hot water

1/2 cup apple cider

2 cups broken walnuts, toasted

Maple Cream

Butter a 9-inch square glass baking dish or baking pan. Line the baking dish with parchment paper, allowing enough so that the edges of the paper come up over the sides of the dish. Butter the bottom of the parchment paper. Set aside. Preheat oven to 325 degrees if using a glass baking dish and 350 degrees if using a metal pan.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg together. Set aside.

Beat butter at medium speed of an electric mixer until light and creamy. Gradually add brown sugar, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add maple syrup, beating until incorporated into butter mixture.

Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with hot water and apple cider, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix at low speed after each addition until blended.

Stir the walnuts into the batter. Pour batter into prepared baking dish.

Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack.

When ready to serve, hold onto sides of parchment paper and pull the cake out of the baking dish. Cut the cake into 9 pieces. Serve each piece with a big dollop of Maple Cream. Makes 9 servings.

Maple Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

Beat whipped cream until soft peaks form. Add maple syrup and beat until cream is whipped to firm peaks.

Tips from the cook

--To toast walnuts, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake them in a 350-degree oven for about 8 minutes. Watch them closely. They will burn easily. Remove the walnuts from the oven and immediately transfer them to a large plate or another baking sheet to cool.

--Sometimes I replace the apple cider in this recipe with dry sherry (not cooking sherry). It produces a nice depth of flavor.

--I like to place the bowl I'll be using to whip cream, as well as the beaters, in the freezer for several minutes to chill. The cream whips up faster.