I’ve been harboring a sizeable and inviting pile of plump Black Corinth or “Champagne” Grapes after using them in some individual blue cheese soufflés recently. The sly handfuls I’ve been grabbing have barely made a dent, and my curiosity about baking with these fresh currants finally manifested itself in the form of this Winemaker’s Cake. If the notion of grape cake conjures up visions of tough, bitter skins and unappetizing mushy holes in an otherwise demure cake, think again. The tiny pearls of grape stud the cake with bursts of gently tart sweetness like a more sophisticated blueberry, and I foresee it making many appearances for Late Summer/Early Fall dessert.
Black Corinth grapes are attractive, seedless, spheres or that look a lot like blackcurrants. If you buy dried currants, you are likely buying dried Corinth grapes (they are also known as Zante currants). You might also see them sold as “Champagne grapes”, which I imagined was due to their tiny bubble shape as they are not used for making champagne or wine, however this misleading pseudonym originates from a photo in Sunset Magazine.
This cheerful, fruity and subtly sweet little cake is absolutely divine served in small slices with a glass of vin santo and perhaps a little of your favorite blue cheese on the side. It’s also rather delicious with a big dollop of mascarpone cream. (A special note to cake batter addicts: restrain yourselves, this one is as good raw as it is baked!)
The fragrant pairing of orange zest and extra virgin olive oil reminds me a lot of a Torta di Arancia or that characteristic orange flavor in other Tuscan-Umbrian cakes, yet it’s surprisingly light and fluffy due to a combination of butter and olive oil. You can use any small, seedless grapes in this cake, preferably not too tart.
Adapted from a recipe in At Home in Provence by Patricia Wells | Serves 8
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup (135 g) sugar
4 tablespoons (2oz) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup (6 cl) extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup (8 cl) whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (200 g) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of sea salt
Zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons (preferably unwaxed)
Zest of 1 large orange
10 oz (300 g) black Corinth grapes, picked over thoroughly for stray stems
9″ Round Springform Pan
Electric or Stand Mixer
Preheat oven to 350F; grease and flour pan and set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in orange and lemon zest (I usually just grate the zest right into the flour bowl).
Using an electric or stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together until mixture turns thick and pale (about 4 minutes). Stir in butter, oil, milk, and vanilla extract until well blended.
Using a wooden spoon, stir flour mixture into egg mixture until thoroughly blended (you want to get rid of the lumps as this is not a muffin-style batter). Set batter aside for about 10 minutes to thicken a little, so the grapes won’t sink when you add them.
Stir in about 3/4 of the grapes, and pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with spatula.
Bake cake on center rack for about 15 minutes, then sprinkle remaining grapes over top of cake (do not press in, although you can gently place them where you want them). Bake for a further 40 minutes or until the top of the cake is golden brown and feels firm when pressed.
Cool on rack for 15 minutes, then remove sides from pan after running a knife around cake to release. Serve slices of the cake slight warm or at room temperature, and dust with confectioner’s sugar if desired.