Hickory Nuts and a cake.
I first posted this recipe five years ago. Today is my mama’s birthday and I am posting it again in honor of her – and because this post has climbed to #7 in recipes from this blog since March 2020. Thank you, COVID quarantine!
November 16, 2020. Today my mama is celebrates her 11th birthday in Heaven.
We always had Hickory Nut Cake for her birthday. We still do.
Now we eat it in honor of her – and in memory.
My sisters and I are scattered from Virginia to Maryland to Nebraska to Canada. Every year since she has been gone, we remember Mama and her love of Hickory Nut Cake.
There are six of us, and each year, at least four or five of us are able to find a meeting place where we can celebrate the woman she was. Someone brings the Hickory Nut Cake with that scrumptious frosting (and it isn’t me).
Finding ways to celebrate our hickory nut cake tradition
One year, my Canadian sister Ida Marie was in the states and a Maryland sister, Rachel, drove to Pennsylvania to see her at her motel. She took along two pieces of that cake so they could enjoy it together. When the rest of us met a few weeks later, Alice took the remainder of the cake out of the freezer and brought it along to share at our gathering.
Directions for the hickory nut cake
It’s a simple cake recipe and freezes well. The frosting? Now that’s a specialty! For the cake, you’ll need the usual ingredients: shortening, sugar, milk, salt, flour, baking powder, eggs, and hickory nuts.
Mix up the batter and put it into pans for baking.
Allow the cake to cool after coming out of the oven.
Put frosting between the two layers, and then continue down the sides (if you prefer) and on the top.
The frosting is what makes the cake. This recipe is the best there is – if you take the time to do it right.
I was fortunate to have a cousin visit my house overnight on her way back to western Maryland. She was delighted to help me make the frosting for our mamas’ cake!
Start by mixing the ingredients for the frosting in a kettle.
Learning about hickory nut frosting from a cousin
Here’s my cousin Naomi getting us started. When I asked her if we should use heavy or light cream, she replied, “That depends on whether you have a Guernsey or a Holstein.” Naomi grew up on a farm, and she knows more about the fat content of milk than I do. We used 1/2 cup light cream and 1/2 cup heavy cream.
Once the ingredients are well mixed, cook on medium-high. Do not stir. Cook until a drop in a glass of water turns into a ball instead of remaining in a string.
Finishing the frosting
Cool the mixture. You can set the pan in cold water. Let it cool until you can hold your hand on the bottom of the pan. Really! This is how the directions are written. Who needs a thermometer?!
Put more cold water in your sink and start stirring. Holding the kettle in the cold water will make it harden faster.
If you’ve ever tasted taffy, you’ll know this taste. Once the frosting is stiff enough, drop it on the cake and spread it. Don’t let it run down the sides. You can frost the sides if you’d like, but you don’t want it to be so runny that it runs down the side.
The finished product
This is what a hickory nut looks like. The one on the left is the nut in its thick, outer shell. The one on the right is, of course, the way it looks when you crack it open to get the nut. No wonder our mothers had their children crack those nuts!
My sisters have substituted another frosting recipe that is faster and easier to do. (It also has a lot more sugar.)
A different frosting recipe
If you think the Caramel Frosting recipe directions are too difficult, you could try this one instead:
Hickory Nut Cake Frosting
Ingredients: ½ cup heavy milk or cream, 1 cup butter, 2 cups brown sugar, ½ cup flour, 1 tsp. Vanilla
Directions: Mix flour and sugar in a saucepan. Add rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil.
Cool slightly, then add about 2 pounds powdered sugar.
Photo Credits: Alice Miller Orendorf and Rachel Miller
- ½ cup shortening
- 1½ cups sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2½ cups cake flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- Milk - 1 cup
- 1 cup chopped hickory nuts
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 cups brown sugar
- 1 cup whole milk or heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Cream shortening
- Add sugar gradually and beat until fluffy
- Add egg yolks and beat until blended
- Sift flour and add salt and baking powder to flour.
- Add flavoring to milk, then alternate dry and wet ingredients until they are mixed well.
- Beat egg whites until stiff, then add the chopped nuts with the egg whites.
- Pour into a greased loaf pan or two layer pans
- Bake at 350 for 30 minutes for a round cake, or for one hour for loaf cake.
- For the frosting, mix ingredients together in a saucepan.
- Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
- Cook - but do not stir - until the syrup forms a soft ball. (238 on your thermometer). You can test this by putting a drop of frosting into cold water. If it forms a soft ball (and not a thin trickle), then it's right.
- Allow it to cool until you can hold your hand on the bottom of the pan.
- Beat until creamy (works better if you do it by hand instead of with a mixer) and spread on cake.
- Cover top with whole hickory nuts or chopped nuts.