James Beard's Walnut Roll

The Dessert That Launched a Career

Tasting Notes is honored to hand our pencil (our keyboard rather) over to this month's guest author Amelia Hard, Chef-Owner of one of Portland's most original and iconic restaurants, Genoa.

Chef Amelia shares one of her holiday dessert favorites, James Beard's Walnut Roll, as prepared by one of her favorite cookbook authors, Paula Wolfert.

A 1980s throwback: Amelia and Fred Hard at Genoa in SE Portland

Genoa opened in 1971, the same year Chez Panisse opened in Berkeley, Calif., with a commitment to growing and sourcing local ingredients. The two West Coast restaurants became leaders in supporting local food producers.

"I always chuckled," Amelia says, "when I'd hear chefs who'd been here about 15 years think that they were the first to have relationships with local farmers."

Some of the many suppliers she remembers fondly are Frank and Karen Morton who grew and hand-selected Genoa's beautiful salad greens, Lars the mushroom forager, Roger the mussel man and Becky the rabbit lady. Genoa also had suppliers for local quail, imported Italian cheeses, olive oil, herbs, and more.

Amelia and Fred sold Genoa to their staff in 1992, but it was under her taste, tenacity and direction that that this early "farm-to-table" restaurant became a culinary landmark in Portland and a legend in the history of our region's unmatched food scene. Genoa helped shape what we think of as Pacific Northwest dining and what food in Portland is today.

Amelia is now retired from restaurateuring but keeps a full life menu. Her passion for helping vulnerable members of our community have access to healthy food is what continues to drive her participation in Oregon Taste, a public service project that promotes fresh Oregon food producers and connects them directly with consumers.

Now over to Amelia...

This story and recipe come from my personal favorite cook book of Paula Wolfert's, World of Food. It was not her biggest-selling book, probably because the publisher wasn't sure how to promote such an eclectic collection of recipes, but I love its wide variety, and all the recipes I've tried have been winners. Especially this cake. It's more than just a recipe, it's a story. Because without James Beard's kind help, her career might never have gotten off the ground.

I've streamlined the instructions a bit based on my own experience making the recipe, so this version isn't verbatim from Wolfert's book. I'll turn the story over to Paula:

In 1959, very early in my career, I went to see James Beard. I had served a year's apprenticeship under Dione Lucas and was looking for a job. Mr. Beard asked me to cook for him. I did, and apparently he was satisfied, for shortly thereafter he kindly recommended me as a caterer for a luncheon that Mrs. Joshua Logan was giving for 150 people... I was a little scared, ...[but] Beard calmed my fears: "Don't worry. Call her up, discuss the menu, then just follow your recipes."

[After phoning Mrs. Logan,] I studied the menu carefully and assured myself I could bring it off...[though] I did remain a little worried about [her request for "a delicious cake"], as desserts are not my strong point. ...I went back to Beard for advice. He gave me this recipe for a walnut roll. "It's easy," he said, "and it always works. You can triple it, quadruple it, multiply it as many times as you like. It will freeze. It will keep for days. It's delicious." I took his advice and made fifteen rolls for the party. ...

At the house Mrs. Logan took one look at me, became very upset, and took to her bed. Her words, according to her cooks, were: "Why have they done this to me? Sent a child to cook the lunch!" Undaunted, I sent up a portion of the walnut roll, which restored Mrs. Logan's confidence. The lunch went well, all the dishes were a success, and when I departed Mrs. Logan told me she was very pleased.

A few questions for Chef Amelia about the Walnut Roll:

Chef's Favorites:

James Beard's Walnut Roll Recipe

Serves: 10

Start to finish time: 90 minutes

Hands-on time: 45 - 60 minutes



5 eggs, at room temperature

½ cup sugar

pinch of salt

1¼ cups (5 ounces) walnuts

½ teaspoon baking powder

photo from Kitchen Riffs, http://www.kitchenriffs.com


½ cup hot milk

1½ cups walnuts (6 ounces)

¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan

⅔ cup sugar

2 tablespoons Cognac

1 cup heavy cream                               

Garnish ½ cup confectioners' sugar


1. Preheat oven to 375˚ F. Dot the bottom of a jelly roll pan (11 by 17 inches) with butter, and line with parchment paper, leaving about 2 inches of paper hanging at each end. Butter the paper.

2. Finely grind 1¼ cups walnuts in a food processor. 

3. Separate the eggs. Using a large wire whisk or a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks, gradually adding the sugar and a pinch of salt. When they are light, add the ground walnuts and baking powder, mixing well. Set aside.

4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they are stiff. Use a spatula to fold the egg whites gently but thoroughly into the yolk mixture. Spread evenly in the prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cover the cake with a clean, lightly dampened kitchen towel and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

5. Prepare the filling: Finely grind 1½ cups walnuts in a food processor. Pour the hot milk over the walnuts and allow the mixture to cool. Meanwhile cream the butter in a mixing bowl, gradually adding the sugar. Mix until light and fluffy. Beat in the nuts and Cognac. Whip the cream until stiff and fold it into the filling.

6. Remove the cake from the refrigerator. Spread a 20-inch-long sheet of waxed paper over the cake. Grip the ends of the pan, holding both layers of paper firmly, and quickly invert the cake and pan. Lift off the pan and peel off the parchment paper. Holding the waxed paper, align the cake on the counter with the long sides facing you horizontally.

7. Use a spatula to spread the filling over the cake, leaving about 1 inch along each of the long edges clear. Lifting the waxed paper slightly on the long side nearest you, roll the edge of the cake up to start forming a long log shape. Continue rolling at a slow steady pace to form as compact a roll as you can.

8. Cover the roll with plastic wrap and refrigerate it until firm. Keep it in the refrigerator overnight and serve it the following day. Just before serving, dust the top with confectioners' sugar shaken through a sieve.



OregonTaste.com is an online searchable directory promoting Oregon’s local farm fresh food growers, makers and sellers in our bountiful state. Connecting them directly with consumers is a public service designed to contribute to more vibrant, sustainable and connected food systems throughout Oregon.

If you don't see your favorite Oregon farms, ranches, fisheries, u-picks or farmers markets on OregonTaste.com, submit them here. Anyone can submit a fresh food producer, it's fast, free and easy and helps connect communities through food!


About the Author

Amelia Hard

Amelia Hard has been part of the Portland restaurant community for over forty years — as a waiter, chef/owner, cooking instructor, culinary consultant, and food justice advocate. Her career began at The Wood Stove in 1974 and she moved from there to Genoa, which she and her husband, Fred, bought in 1981. Over the next eleven years, they helped Genoa gain national recognition and become Portland's most cherished special occasion restaurant. In 1992, she and Fred sold Genoa to a group of their longtime employees; this freed her to concentrate on two other passions: teaching cooking and fighting hunger. Her initiatives included founding Taste of the Nation Portland (a major annual hunger-relief fundraiser) and establishing an ongoing program at Oregon Food Bank that uses chefs as volunteer teachers to improve the cooking skills of people on food assistance. She also helped Oregon Food Bank put on a workshop for the healthcare community on the long-term medical consequences of hunger in young children, which generated an ongoing Childhood Hunger Initiative that now provides clinicians with tools for detecting food insecurity in their patients.

Amelia’s passion for making sure vulnerable members of our community have access to healthy food is what continues to drive her participation in the Oregon Taste and James Beard Public Market projects.