Nigella’s Moist English Coffee Cake with Walnuts: Made Gluten-free & Dairy-Free!


I’m not normally much of a coffee drinker, but the smooth taste of espresso with walnutty company, all wrapped up in velvet smooth buttercream.. well who can possibly resist!

Every Sunday my husband and I visit this cute little café just outside St. Albans, called The Saddlery Café. It rests in idyllic rural surroundings, and offers a tempting selection from an all-gluten-free menu. Cakes are handmade, and it both shows and tastes.

I love sharing a pot of tea in their courtyard, along with a sizable piece of cake. Each weekend I swear I’ll try another flavour, but the coffee cake keeps tempting me, and I end up with the same piece on every visit. It’s worth sacrificing all others for; it’s just that delicious!

Saddlery Cafe (image source)

Saddlery Cafe (image source)


I decided I should try my hand at it at home, although was sure to be setting myself up for a cake bingeing feast that has no end 🙂

You can make this cake decaf, but be warned; it doesn’t make it any less addictive!

I found Nigella’s recipe online and decided to give it a go. I was not at all disappointed; yum! The taste of coffee is not at all strong; just enough to get you hooked. Nigella doesn’t use the chocolate, but I think it adds a little something. I have tried the recipe dairy-free, which works well if you use hard fats (not spreadable) instead of butter.

My buttercream is quite dark because I used a bit more coffee (on request from hubby), so don’t panic if yours comes out a slightly different colour.

Give it ago; if you like the smell of fresh coffee at all, you’ll adore this luscious cake!

Gluten-Free English Coffee & Walnut Cake

Gluten-Free English Coffee & Walnut Cake

You’ll need:

For the sponge

  • 50 grams walnuts (no shell)
  • 225 grams caster sugar
  • 225 grams soft unsalted butter (plus some for greasing) or dairy-free butter alternative (not spreadable)
  • 200 grams all-purpose gluten-free flour (make your own gluten-free flour here!)
  • 4 teaspoons instant espresso powder (must be powder; not granules)
  • 2 ½ teaspoons gluten-free baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 4 large organic pastured eggs OR egg replacer
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons milk or dairy-free milk replacer

For the buttercream

  • 350 grams icing sugar
  • 175 grams soft unsalted butter or non-dairy butter alternative (not spreadable)
  • 2 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder (dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water)
  • approx. 10 walnut halves (to decorate)
  • Grated dark chocolate (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4/350°F
  2. Butter two 20cm / 8inch round tins and line the base of each with baking paper
  3. Put the walnut pieces and sugar into a food processor and run on high until you’ve got a fine powder
  4. Add the 225g of butter, gluten-free flour, 4 teaspoons espresso powder, gluten-free baking powder, bicarb and pastured eggs, and process to a smooth batter
  5. Add the milk or dairy-free alternative, slowly, with the mixer still running. It should be quite a wet mix, almost the thickness of yoghurt, so add more milk if you need to
  6. Divide the mixture between the 2 lined tins and bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean
  7. Cool the cakes in their tins on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, before turning them out onto the rack and peeling off the baking parchment
  8. Make the buttercream whilst the cakes are cooling, and make sure the bases are completely cool before you frost them, or the buttercream will melt!
  9. Pulse the icing sugar in the food processor until it is lump free, then add the butter and process to make a smooth icing
  10. Dissolve the instant espresso powder in 1 tablespoon boiling water and add it while still hot
  11. Place 1 sponge upside down on your cake stand or serving plate
  12. Spread with about half the icing; then place on it the second sponge, right side up, before you frost the cake with the remainder of the buttercream
  13. Decorate with walnut halves and grated dark chocolate!

Tip: You can stir chocolate through the buttercream for an extra chocolatey taste!

This cake is supposed to have a rustic look, so not to worry about buttercream getting squeezed out from the middle layer, or a bit of a rough finish. That’s just perfect!


12 Comments on “Nigella’s Moist English Coffee Cake with Walnuts: Made Gluten-free & Dairy-Free!”

  1. Mmmmm, looks so good!! Thanks for the tip about using decaf coffee: it makes a difference for those of us not used to consuming caffeine.


  2. Hi can you please let me know what purpose the eggs serve in this recipe? Is it as a binding agent or leavening agent? I need to make it egg free but trying to work out the best substitute


  3. Looks lovely, I’d love to try it. Please can you let me know what non-spreadable dairy-free butter alternatives are available? As I have only come across spreadable ones. TIA


  4. Hi. I’m no expert on making cakes so i was happy to find a recipe which looked simply enough. I just tried to make this coffee cake but my mixture was overflowing in the oven the top of the cake was burning but the inside wasn’t cooked at all. Any suggestions what could I’ve been doing wrong.


    • Hi Kate! Not to worry, that can happen to the best of us 🙂 It sounds like you might have either maybe added too much rising agent (did you perhaps use self rising flour and then add some extra?), or your baking tin was too small for the mixture. Also, every oven is different and some are hotter than others. Plus there are differences between fan forced ovens, traditional electric ovens and gas ovens. Further more, the placement of the cake inside the oven matters. I’m not sure that helped you, but perhaps try it again in a larger tin and use slightly lower heat. You can also place some tinfoil over top of the cake if it burns before it’s done. I hope you have better luck next time, and that you will get to taste this yummy cake 🙂 Thanks so much for reading the blog! Love, Kristine


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