“I've combined the classic flavours of coffee and walnut in a gorgeously bittersweet sponge, sandwiched with smooth, espresso-infused buttercream, to create this spectacular cake for a spectacular man. Happy birthday, Captain Tom! In the spirit of celebration, why not make this for your neighbours, local NHS staff, or those unable to get out to the shops? ”
Serves 30 plus
Cooks In2 hours plus cooling time
Nutrition per serving
Of an adult's reference intake
Tap For Method
For the sponge
400 g unsalted butter, softened , plus extra for greasing
400 g self-raising flour , plus a little extra for dusting
400 g golden caster sugar
8 large free-range eggs
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
150 g walnuts
60 ml very strong cold espresso coffee, or 6 tablespoons coffee essence
For the walnut praline (optional)
150 g golden caster sugar
50 g walnuts
For the buttercream
200 g unsalted butter , at room temperature
500 g icing sugar
30 ml very strong cold espresso, or 6 tablespoons coffee essence
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4. Grease two 20cm sandwich cake tins and line the bases with greaseproof paper. Dust the sides with flour, then tap the tin to shake off any excess.
Cut the butter into cubes, then put into a large mixing bowl of an upright stand mixer with the caster sugar, and beat on high-speed for about 5 minutes, or until very pale and creamy. (Feel free to do this by hand, or with electric beaters.)
Beat in the eggs one by one, mixing well before adding the next (don’t worry if the mixture looks split at this stage). Sift in the flour, cocoa and baking powder and gently fold through.
Finely chop the walnuts, then fold through the batter and stir in the coffee. Divide half of the mixture equally between the prepared tins and bake for 25 minutes, or until risen and golden, and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the tins, then transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cake mixture.
Meanwhile, if you’re making the praline, sprinkle the sugar evenly over the base of a medium non-stick frying pan on a medium-high heat. As the sugar starts to melt, gently swirl the pan from time to time to incorporate it all, but don’t stir until the sugar has almost completely dissolved. (You are looking for a deep-golden caramel colour.) Once the sugar has completely dissolved, stir until you have a smooth caramel. Roughly chop the walnuts and stir through the caramel until thoroughly coated. Very carefully pour onto a large sheet of greaseproof paper, then quickly spread out the nuts and leave to cool completely.
To make the buttercream, cut the butter into cubes, place in the bowl of an upright stand mixer, and whisk for 2 minutes, or until creamy. (Alternatively, you could beat it by hand or with electric beaters). Sift the icing sugar into a bowl, then gradually add it to the mixer, a few spoonfuls at a time. Once all the sugar has been incorporated, add the coffee and whisk for a further 4 to 5 minutes, or until very pale and fluffy – it should resemble whipped cream. (If using coffee essence, you may find the buttercream is a little thick, so add a small splash of water to loosen and whisk for a final minute.)
To assemble the cake, trim off the tops of the sponges so they’re nice and even. Spread a tiny amount of buttercream onto a serving plate or board, then place one of the sponges on top. Spread the top of the sponge with ¼ of the buttercream, using a spatula, until evenly covered. Place a second sponge cake on top, spread with another ¼ of the buttercream, and repeat with the third sponge. Place the fourth sponge on top and leave the cake in the fridge, or somewhere cool to set for 30 minutes.
Use the remaining buttercream to ice the top and sides of the cake in a thin layer. (I like it when a bit of the sponge cake peeps through, but you can cover it completely if you prefer, or simply ice the top.)
Now you can decorate the cake however you like – you could pipe swirls of icing and dot with whole walnuts; smash up some of the praline so it's nice and fine and sprinkle around the edges; melt some dark chocolate and spread evenly onto a sheet of greaseproof paper, sprinkle over some bashed-up coffee beans, place in the fridge until set and then snap into shards with some praline and poke in the top; or add some chocolate-covered coffee beans, maybe an extra dusting of cocoa, or some shavings of dark chocolate.