21 September 2008

Winemaker's Grape Cake

It is known simply as the incident of the grape pie in my family. Whenever anyone asks my mother about my cooking abilities, she can always say, "well there was that grape pie she made." You see, as a kid, the very first thing I learned how to bake was pie. And I was home alone one afternoon, locked in the house while my mother gone somewhere, and making a pie seemed like a good way to pass the time. The only fruit we had in the house was a big bag of grapes, but I enterprisingly found a recipe for "grape pie" in the Joy of Cooking. So I made a homemade crust and followed the directions and baked up a homemade grape pie. With green grapes. And yes, parents, I was probably too young to be making pies unsupervised.

The pie came out looking beautiful, I remember, but it was as inedibly tart as you would imagine green grape pie to be. My mom's friend Shawn, a swim coach with the requisite eat-anything appetite, managed to struggle down a few slices, but I'm pretty sure the rest ended up in the trash. After that failure, I avowed that grapes did not belong in dessert, pair them with your cheese, add them to salads, but keep them out of the baking arena. And despite my adventurous baking nature, I stuck with this rule for years.

Until I came across a recipe for a grape cake that sounded so intriguing, and had so many positive reviews, that I just had to make it. I had a bottle of muscat wine that I had picked up on a trip to Lebanon's Chatura Vineyards, and it needed to be used up or tossed (being far past its prime for drinking), and I found this recipe. It's just the kind of cake I like, simple, only slightly sweet, and with a burst of ripe fruit. And despite my skepticism about the grapes, well, they were fabulous, just the right accent to the cake.

Don't be skeptical of the olive oil either, it works wonderfully here, just as it does in plenty of other desserts. I've made this cake many times since then, and I've even come across similar versions of the recipe elsewhere (like Patricia Wells' Winemakers' Grape Cake), which means I'm not the only one who's been enamored of the slightly unusual recipe. And so I'll amend my rule for this cake, as long as you make sure to use red grapes, and not green.

Winemaker's Grape Cake

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup Beaumes-de-Venise or other Muscat wine
1 1/2 cups red seedless grapes
for topping: 1 tablespoon butter, 2 tablespoons sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush 9-inch-diameter springform pan with olive oil. Line bottom of pan with parchment; brush parchment with olive oil.
2. Sift flour and next 3 ingredients into bowl. Whisk 3/4 cup sugar, butter and olive oil in large bowl until smooth. Whisk in eggs, both peels and vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with wine in 3 additions each, whisking just until smooth after each addition. Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top. Sprinkle grapes over batter.
3. Bake cake until top is set, about 20 minutes. Dot top of cake with 1 tablespoon butter; sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over. Bake until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes longer. Cool in pan on rack 20 minutes. Release pan sides. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.


Anonymous said...

hello - i stumbled across your blog and just wanted to thank you for taking the time to post recipes (with pics!) as well as stories from your time in and out of the middle east. my family is originally from beirut, lebanon and it is certainly refreshing to see an american take such an interest in my culture. sincerely, tania hermes

Rita said...

This cake looks really good, and so different! I was wondering if the grapes break as they cook, making the cake soggy... It doesn't look like from the picture.
I also like simple cakes, the ones with frosting and fillings are for special occasions only...

Y said...

This cake sounds lovely. I like the idea of the wine, olive oil and grapes, in a cake. Looking forward to trying it out. Love that story about the grape pie too :)

Mercedes said...

Thanks Tania, I'm hoping to get back to some more lebanese and arab recipes soon, so stay tuned!

rita- no the grapes don't break, and in fact they have a nice texture to them which complements the cake.

y- ha, yes, thanks!

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing that recipe - I'm looking forward to trying it and sharing it with our guests!

Can grape juice be used instead of the wine?

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Kristin said...

Love your recipes Mercedes! I spent quite a bit of time in the Middle East as a kid and teenager (Saudi, Kuwait) as well as South Africa- it is nice to see that influence in your recipes- takes me back :)

Anyways- a question. I don't have any muscat here at home and this grape cake looks lovely- I do have Madeira which is begging to be used up. Do you think it could substitute fairly well?

Thanks :) Kristin

Mercedes said...

greyswann- yes, grape juice can totally be substituted for a non-alcoholic version. I'd recommend you try and find an unsweetened or lower-sugar grape juice so it's no too sweet.

hi kristin- well, I haven't tried this with Madeira, so I can't give you a straight yes/no answer. But my best guess wold be that yes, you could substitute madeira, but since it has a stronger flavor profile, you might want to use half as much? And then make up the difference with a little grape juice or water or something. It's a judgement call on your part, you just don't want the madeira flavor to overwhelm the cake....

Kristin said...

OOh, that's true...I'll use half the amount and sub grape juice :)

Thanks for replying so quickly...


Kristin said...

Used a gamay rouge instead and it turned out wonderful! Thanks for the recipe!

I also made the white nectarine and cardamom compote - mine turned a blush pink color, but it is beautiful- can't wait to try it- yum :)


Daly said...

Dear Mercedes, thank you for posting a recipe that is almost fool-proof. If I can bake a cake, anyone can. This cake is just delicious!! Thank you.


Suzer said...

I have concord graps in the backyard and wonder if they would go well in this? I have used olive oil in baking before, but after a few days, the muffins went off, so I wonder about that, unless you are going to eat it all the first day or 2.

Stef said...

Wanted to let you know that I made a version of this cake in cupcake form. I loved it! Thanks for the recipe and inspiration!

SallyHiggins said...

What a beautiful blog you have created! I came across it looking for the grape cake recipe which I have made in the past. I make it with siegerrebe grapes that my husband grows in the yard for winemaking. The grapes have seeds that when baked lose their bitterness and taste like little nuts (grapenuts anyone?). Can't wait to try some of your other recipes. Thanks again. Sally, Bellingham, WA

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