Of course, this cake isn't much of a looker. Wait, I shouldn't say that. How rude of me. This cake is beautiful, in that way that the homely, scraggly dog at the shelter is somehow the cutest one there. But up next to a well-crafted chocolate souffle, or a box of handmade chocolates, or a red velvet cake cut into a heart-shape and covered with cinnamon frosting, this walnut pound cake falls a little short in the swimsuit portion of the pageant.
Luckily for you and your Valentine, it more than makes up for it in the more substantive question-and-answer period. As a pound cake, it is dense. Buttery. Significant. Its edges caramelize into a light and crispy sugar "crust" that is a divine contrast to the moist cake within. Beyond the vanilla, the only flavoring in the cake comes from the toasted chopped walnuts -- which means the cake is simple and subtle in the best possible way. I thought about adding some orange zest to punch up the flavor quotient a bit, but decided against it. The walnut deserves to shine. On a stage as rich as a pound cake, all the walnut needs is a spotlight. And maybe Bert Parks, armed with some pressing, thoughtful questions.
So, stereotypical Valentine's chocolate dessert: there's always runner-up. I hope you're up to the challenge of stepping in, in the highly unlikely event the walnut pound cake is unable to fulfill its duties.
WALNUT POUND CAKE
Adapted from the Penzeys catalog
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. shortening
3 c. sugar
3 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1 c. whole milk
1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 c. walnuts, chopped and toasted
Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Chop the walnuts and spread them in an even layer on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 8-10 minutes, until the walnuts take on a little color and are fragrant. Remove and let cool. (Keep the oven on 325 degrees.)
Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt or tube pan (or use Pam with flour, which is so easy and works so well). In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder; set aside. In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and shortening on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugar, then beat for about 7 more minutes, until the mixture is fluffy and very light, almost white in color.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla and walnuts and mix briefly to combine. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake for 90 minutes, then remove and let cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes before turning the cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar if desired, and serve.
Makes 16 pieces.