It's summer, and hence funky fruit season (particularly grape season), here in Cairo... for a couple of weeks last month, a batch of gorgeous seedless black concord grapes appeared on the market. Being an avid grape fan, I've always wanted to create some kind of baked grape dessert. But it's a little hard -- they're not like berries, where they pop and ooze and become a delicious part of whatever is being baked; grapes tend to get soggy, and bog dough down because while their skin stays in tact, all the goodness on the inside turns into a runny fluidy-goop making it difficult for dough and batters to rise. This was particularly the case when I tried to make a grape tart a few years ago and failed dismally. These concord grapes however, changed my perspective on the matter -- baking with grapes is not only doable, but unbelievably delicious and succulent, if done the right way.
That's not to say there's a wrong way -- if you're into runny desserts, that's all fine :). But I enjoyed both making and sharing this cake (and this recipe) because I do love it when my desserts - particularly cakes and loafs - rise and also hold themselves together afterward. This particular cake was a patch-up of several different recipes, and I fumbled around until I was satisfied with the result. Slightly grainy because of the almond meal and cornmeal, strangely tender with a depth of flavor I accredit to the addition of extra virgin olive oil, and sweet-smelling perfumed grapes that created little pockets of blue all over. Here's a secret though --- Make sure your grapes are cold from the fridge when you use them. That way, they'll retain some shape and not seep their moisture while baking.
Alternatively -- This is such a pretty cake! And you absolutely can use any other grape for this recipe -- the concord grapes were fantastic because they gave it a lot of color and also their unique perfumy-taste gave it a unique flavor, but this recipe is tailored to work with all other seedless grapes. Because it contains so few ingredients, it's also easily whipped up if you need a quick dessert.
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup almond-meal
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/3 cup skimmed milk
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups black concord grapes
Grease and dust your baking pan (I used a square one but feel free to go ahead with rectangle or circle). Preheat your oven to 180.C and set aside.
In a large glass bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and lemon zest with a hand blender until fluffy. Add oil, beat again. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, stir four, almond meal, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt together. Add half the flour mix and half the milk into the egg, sugar and oil mixture. Beat, and add the rest of the flour and milk until batter is thick and fully incorporated.
Pour batter into your pan and scatter half the amount of grapes over top. Bake for 15 minutes, and pull out of the oven — you’ll find the grapes have sunk to the bottom. That’s fine — scatter remaining grapes over cake and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, and color is golden (about half an hour, but keep checking).
Let your cake cool in its pan for about 15 minutes before turning it out and serving. Enjoy warm, or cold from the fridge. (Note: If you're having this warm, feel free to dollup some ice cream on top -- you're welcome :))