MB Manion Morell

Walnut, Poppy-seed, Mocha, and Dulce de Leche Cake

MB Manion Morell
Walnut, Poppy-seed, Mocha, and Dulce de Leche Cake

On the cover of the Feast Magazine I hauled home from Australia a couple of weeks ago was a fantastic looking cake… (cakes that grace the covers of food magazines always are) an allegedly Russian creation titled a “Korolevsky (or King’s) Cake.” It featured three separate layers… one walnut, one chocolate, and one poppy seed. The Feast geniuses mixed sour cream and dulce de leche to spread between the layers (not sure the dulce de leche has ever been a traditionally Russian foodstuff, but I’m not arguing) then drizzled a chocolate ganache over the whole thing.

Oh my… Never mind that it obviously would take every pot, pan and bowl in my kitchen to create, I’ve been looking for a reason to bake the cake for weeks.

This cake immediately triggered memories of my Hungarian in-laws.  They were first generation immigrants, who once owned a bakery in Akron, Ohio. Every year at Christmas, they sent carefully wrapped boxes of poppy-seed strudel and walnut strudel – creations that took hours to prepare.  I’m sure they would have been quite taken with a layer cake that included some of their favorite ingredients.  And sour cream. And dulce de leche. I certainly was.

I discovered that a dear work colleague was celebrating her birthday last weekend, and decided she needed this cake. There. I had my excuse to bake it.

The thing is, it has been established that I am somewhat of a slow learner.  The last baking recipe from an Australian publication I tried was a complete and utter disaster.  Oh, and I had a long chat with my Australian friend Fiona about this disaster, and we established the sugars and flours and measurements are all a bit different, so often her recipes don’t work here either (and she is a fantastic cook.)

So, completely ignoring all this prior knowledge (really, what was I thinking?), I enthusiastically tried to follow the recipe directly from the Aussie magazine…and the first time ended up with three tough rounds that looked like (and actually had the texture of) hockey pucks.  Honestly.  It was utterly demoralizing.  So into the garbage they went, and off I went in search of an American sour cream cake that could be tweaked to my liking.  I was not to be deterred in pursuit of the creation of this potentially wondrous cake.

So I turned (as always) to Ina Garten… and fiddled with her sour cream coffee cake recipe.  This was just the ticket – a rich, sour cream base divided in three, studded with poppy seeds, walnuts… and my chocolate layer turned to mocha.  You see, my father-in-law was known to be happiest with a cup of coffee in his hand (and the birthday girl as well, come to think of it.)

So to Polly, possibly the hardest working math/tech teacher/tech coordinator on the planet… wishing you a very happy birthday. You certainly deserved a cake fit for a king…

Walnut, Poppy-seed, Mocha, and Dulce de Leche Cake


Walnut, Poppy-seed, Mocha and Dulce de Leche Cake (or Korolevsky Cake)

Adapted from Feast Magazine and Ina Garten’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Serves: 8-10


  • 12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 3 extra-large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cups sour cream
  • 2 ½ cups cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1 cup walnuts, finely ground
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 ½ cups dulce de leche
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup whipping cream


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 9-inch cake pans.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined.
  3. Divide the batter among three bowls. Fold the poppy seeds into one batter, then the cocoa and espresso powder into the second batter and the walnuts into the third batter. Spread the batter into separate cake pans. Place the pans into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  4. To make the ganache, place the chocolate and cream in a saucepan and set over very low heat. Stir until the chocolate has melted, taking care that the chocolate doesn’t burn.

  5. Next, in another bowl, mix together the dulce de leche and cup of sour cream.
  6. To assemble the cake, place the poppy seed cake on the serving platter. Spread with half of the dulce de leche mixture, then top with the mocha cake. Spread with the remaining dulce de leche mixture then finish with the walnut cake.
  7. Pour ganache over the cake and set aside for 15 minutes or until just set. Scatter a few walnuts over the top of the cake to decorate.