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Royal Viennese Walnut Torte

KCTS 9's Sara Elward made this gorgeous Maida Heatter 3-layer cake and brought it to the office. So picture-perfect and delicious, no one could believe it wasn't from a fancy bakery. Ground walnuts replace flour in this torte, and, according to Sara, the secret to this flourless chocolate cake is her Swedish nut grinder, an industrial model with a rotary drum that clamps to the kitchen counter. Walnuts in a food processor just don’t get the same results. Not easy, and not for beginners or the faint of heart. You'll need a large bowl, minimum 8 quarts, to fold the ingredients together.
serves 12 to 16


  • 1 pound (41/2 cups) walnuts
  • 11/2-2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa powder (preferable Dutch process) 
  • 12 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • dry breadcrumbs, finely ground


Adjust 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds, and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter three 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with rounds of baking parchment. Butter the papers and the pan sides. Dust all over with fine, dry bread crumbs and set aside.
Grind walnuts. To use a food processor, place walnuts and 1/2 cup of the sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade. (You'll omit this sugar if you grind walnuts by hand.) Process for 15 seconds only; any longer and the nuts will become lumpy and oily. The sugar helps prevent the nuts from becoming pasty in the processor. Add cocoa and pulse a few times, or add to the hand-ground nuts and blend. Mix thoroughly, scraping down the sides to blend. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir with a fork to finish blending; set aside.
In the small bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks at high speed for about 3 minutes. Reduce speed and gradually add in 1 cup sugar. Increase speed to high again and continue to beat 5 minutes more until thick and pale. Remove from mixer and transfer to a large mixing bowl (8-quart plus); set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer beat egg white and salt until they hold a soft shape. On low speed, add 1/2 cup sugar and continue to beat on high speed until whites hold a firm point when beaters are raised, or are stiff but not dry. Do not overbeat. Remove from the mixer.
With a large rubber spatula, fold half the nut mixture into the yolks, and then, in the following order, fold in one-third of the whites, the remaining half of the nit mixture, half the remaining whites, and then the rest of the whites. Fold gently, not once more than necessary, and do not fold until completely blended until after the last addition, and then, just barely.
Divide batter among prepared pans. Spread the tops level with the bottom of a large spoon.
Bake 2 pans on one rack and 1 pan on the other, without placing one directly over another. Bake for 50 minutes, until the tops spring back when gently pressed with a fingertip and the layers come away slightly from the sides of the pans. (During baking the layers will rise and then sink a little.)
Remove pans from the oven. Cover each pan with a rack and invert, but do not remove from the pans until they are cool enough to handle. Cut around the edges to release, invert onto e rack, and remove pan. Do not remove the paper linings until you are ready to ice the cake. Invert onto another rack to cool right side up.
The cake has a distinct yet subtle walnut flavor. Frost with Coffee Buttercream or your favorite chocolate ganache.
Coffee Buttercream


  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons dry instant coffee
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum or cognac, plus extra (optional)) for sprinkling on the layers


Place yolks in the top of a small double boiler. Beat a little with a small wire whisk just to mix. Gradually stir in sugar. Dissolve coffee in boiling water, and gradually whisk it into the yolk mixture.
Place over warm water on low-medium heat. The water must not touch the top of the double boiler and it must not boil, or mixture will curdle. Cook, stirring and scraping the pot constantly with a rubber spatula for 10 to 15 minutes, until mixture thickens to a soft custard consistency, and reaches 170 to 175 degrees on a candy thermometer. Stop the cooking by quickly turning the mixture into a metal bowl; place bowl in a larger bowl of ice and water. Stir frequently until mixture is cool.
Beat the butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer to soften it a bit. Gradually add cooled custard mixture, the vanilla, and the rum or cognac. Beat well until very smooth and light in color. If necessary, refrigerate the mixture to firm it a bit and then beat it again.
Just before icing the cake, peel the paper from the layers.
Place 4 strips of baking parchment around the edges of a large, flat cake plate. Place the first cake layer on the plate right side up, checking to make sure it touches the papers all around. Optional additional rum or cognac may be sprinkled over each layer before frosting. Use a long, narrow metal spatula to spread a thin layer of filling. The filling must be spread thinly, or you won’t have enough to cover the top and sides of the cake. Continue stacking layers right side up, frosting the second layer as you stack.
When layers are in place, brush sides of cake to remove any loose crumbs. Cover sides and finally the top with buttercream, spreading it smooth. Refrigerate and serve cake cold. Before serving, remove the paper strips by pulling each one out by a narrow end. You may decorate the top of the cake with cocoa powder sifted through a doily or cake decorating stencil.