This cake makes a perfect autumnal wedding cake - in fact, we had it for our own wedding, baked by our dear friend Dervilla. We decorated it with sparklers and dark red rose petals, which made for a rather dramatic and beautiful effect.
It keeps well, so you could send a slice to anyone who was unable to come to the reception. You don't need a wedding to enjoy this cake, however, as it's great for any special occasion.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Brush 2 (8-inch) or 3 (7-inch) cake pans or sandwich pans with melted butter, and dust with flour. Line the base of each pan with parchment or greaseproof paper.
In a bowl, sift the flour with the salt, and baking powder.
In a large bowl, or in an electric food mixer, cream the butter until soft. Add the sugar, and vanilla extract, and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, and then stir in the chopped walnuts. Fold in a quarter of the flour and milk into the mixture, alternating each, until they are incorporated.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff.
Stir a quarter of the egg whites into the cake mixture, and then gently fold in the rest. Divide the batter between the tins, making a slight hollow in the center of each so that the cake rises evenly rather than forming a peak.
Bake in the oven until firm to the touch or until a skewer inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean, about 16 to 20 minutes. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.
To make the buttercream filling: Cream the butter until very soft, and then beat in the confectioners' sugar, and the vanilla extract. When the cakes are cool, spread the buttercream filling on one layer, and top with the second layer, sandwiching the layers together.
Make the American frosting as described below. Spread the American frosting quickly over the cake with a palette knife, regularly dipping the knife into a jug of boiling water to help spread the icing. It sets very quickly at this stage, so speed is essential.
Scatter with rose petals, if using, or arrange the walnut halves around the top of the cake, and allow the icing to set until it feels dry on the surface.
To make the American Frosting: Ensure your cake is ready before you start, as this icing begins to set very quickly. Bring to the boil a saucepan of water large enough to hold a heatproof bowl. Place the egg whites in the bowl and whisk with a hand-held electric beater until very stiff.
In a separate saucepan over a medium-high heat, dissolve the sugar in the water and boil for 5 to 10 minutes until the liquid is thick and syrupy and has reached the 'thread' stage - when the last few drops that fall from a metal spoon dipped into the syrup come off in one long, quite thick and syrupy thread.
Pour the boiling syrup over the stiffly beaten egg whites, whisking all the time with the hand-held beater. Place the bowl in the saucepan of simmering water. Continue to whisk over the water for 10 to 15 minutes until the icing is snow white, very thick and meringue-like.
Spread quickly over the cake with a palette knife, regularly dipping the knife into a jug of boiling water. The icing sets very quickly at this stage, so speed is essential.
Cooks NotesThis delicious soft icing is a little tricky to make, so follow the instructions exactly. Quick and accurate decisions are necessary in judging when the icing is ready and then it must be applied to the cake immediately. If the icing is not cooked enough, it will still taste good, but will not dry out properly on the outside. If cooked too much, it will be difficult to spread over the cake.
Any leftover walnuts will keep best in the freezer. Like many cakes with nuts in them, this cake keeps very well if properly stored for a couple of weeks.