Michelle Darmody: Baking with walnuts

Michelle Darmody: Baking with walnuts

I discovered a new refill shop near where I live. It is a great addition to the neighbourhood, you can bring jars or your own bags and purchase the amount of nuts, seeds, rice or toiletries that suits you. I filled a jar with a scoop of fresh and perky walnuts on my last visit and I have been using them in my baking and cooking ever since.

I am most often tempted to take the lazy option and pair walnuts with espresso to make a coffee and walnut cake. The two flavours work very well together even though they are both on the bitter end of the scale, when matched with sugar and dairy they mellow and blend. Do not get me wrong, a good coffee and walnut cake is delicious, but walnuts can be matched with other flavours just as graciously.

They are a crunchy and flavourful addition to banana bread or carrot cake, and generally work well with hearty loaf-style cakes; and of course, like most baking ingredients, they are perfect with chocolate.

Walnuts’ astringent taste make them ideal in sweet desserts like chocolate brownies. Brownies are not time-consuming to make but they can be a little tricky to get just right. The most common mistake is over baking them.

The top of the brownie should be shiny and will probably begin to crack slightly when perfectly baked. The wobble should be gone from the centre but it should still be heavy, dense and fudgy, brownies continue to bake after you remove them from the oven so getting that sweet spot can take a bit of practice.

Every oven is different and also your cake tin can affect how heat is conducted. The eggs have to be baked completely, so your batter should not be liquid in any way but when you test it with a skewer there should still be moist crumbs on it.

Walnut and dark chocolate brownies

Michelle Darmody: Baking with walnuts

250g of soft butter

250g of dark chocolate, broken into small even sized pieces

320g of golden caster sugar

4 eggs, lightly beaten

150g of plain flour

200g of walnuts, chopped

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees and lined a 9in square cake tin with parchment.

Melt the butter and chocolate together over a low heat.

Mix the sugar, eggs and flour until combined, stir in the butter mixture and the chopped walnuts.

Scoop into your prepared tin and bake for about 25 minutes. You use a skewer differently to test brownies than would with other cakes, it should not come out perfectly clean, as brownies have a stickier consistency. When you insert a skewer it should have damp crumbs on it but not raw batter. If the batter is still liquid put them back in for another three minutes or so and then repeat the test.

Allow the brownies to cool in the tin then cut them to your desired size.

Date and walnut slices

Michelle Darmody: Baking with walnuts

260g of stoned dates, roughly chopped

175g of plain flour

Half tsp of baking powder

140g of golden caster sugar

100g of porridge oats

175g of cold butter cubed

100g of walnuts, roughly chopped

Heat the oven to 180C and line a 10in square cake tin with parchment.

Place the chopped dates into a saucepan with 330ml of water and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the mixture is soft and thick, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl.

Add the sugar and oats and mix well.

Rub the cold butter in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles rough breadcrumbs.

Press half the mixture into the base of the lined tin and smooth it out, then spread the cooled date mixture on top and smooth this out as well.

Sprinkle the walnuts over the dates. Spread the remaining oat mixture on top and press down gently with your hands.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until golden on top. Allow to cool in the tin then cut to your desired size.

Walnut and apricot clusters

Michelle Darmody: Baking with walnuts

200g of dark chocolate, broken into even sized pieces

1tbs of soft butter

200g of walnuts, roughly chopped

60g of dried apricots, chopped

Line a large flat baking tray with parchment.

Melt the chocolate over a low heat, using a bowl which is comfortably sitting above some simmering water. Make sure no steam from the water gets into the chocolate.

Stir the butter into the melted chocolate, then stir in the chopped nuts and apricots.

Spoon clusters onto the prepared baking tray. I usually use two dessertspoons to shape the clusters.

Place the tray into the fridge for at least an hour to allow them to set.

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