James Beard Foundation, NYC
For the cake:
- 4 cups walnut halves
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus enough to grease baking pan
- 1 cup light honey, such as acacia or wildflower
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
For the syrup:
- 1 cup honey
- Grated zest of 2 lemons (1 tablespoon)
- Juice of 2 lemons (1/2 cup)
Preheat the oven to 350°F and butter a 13-by-9-inch baking pan.
To make the cake, pick out 24 of the best-looking walnut halves and set them aside. Place the remaining ugly walnut halves in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal chopping blade. Add the sugar. Process with 20 to 25 one-second pulses until the nuts have ground to a coarse meal. Be careful not to over-process or the nuts will expel some of their oil and turn into a mess.
In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the butter, 2 cups water, honey, cinnamon, salt, and the ground walnut-sugar mixture. Set over medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the butter melts and the mixture is uniformly combined. Remove from the heat.
Stir in the flour, baking powder, and baking soda, until blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out the top with the back of a spoon or a spatula.
Arrange the reserved attractive walnut halves in even rows across the top of the cake. Push them down gently so they sink somewhat into the batter.
Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and firm to the touch, and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center reads at least 185°F. Place the cake pan on a wire rack and cool to lukewarm.
Meanwhile, prepare the syrup. Combine the honey with 1/2 cup water in a saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Add the lemon zest and continue cooking until the mixture comes to a boil. Simmer, stirring once in a while, until the mixture becomes syrupy, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.
While the cake is still warm, spoon the syrup evenly over the top, letting it sink in before you pour on the next spoonful. The cake should sit for at least 4 hours to absorb the syrup, or better yet, overnight.
Cut the cake into squares with a walnut half in the center of each. Eat the edges yourself, privately. Store wrapped airtight for up to 1 week.