This lovely Mediterranean cake should be served slightly warm or at room temperature with a touch of whipped cream and of course a glass of wine.
By Valerie Harrison
When sick, or tired, or far from home, everyone seems to yearn for the gastronomic equivalent of a warm sweater, a kiss on the forehead, or a favourite blanket. Comfort foods nourish the soul as well as our bodies. Just like the pending season your senses can be awakened with anything from a caramelized squash soup to a large bowl of comfortable macaroni and cheese. It is not uncommon for my home to be filled with warm, fragrant and earthy aromas of a slow cooked roast or bubbling crock pot.
On a recent trip I was excited to find that Coronation grapes had returned to the market and along with it the comfort of a fall day. The fall grape harvest is in the air and the wonderfully aromatic violet-blue Coronation grapes are market ready both here in the Okanagan Valley as well as in the Niagara region of Ontario. Patricia Wells makes a version of this cake and recommends using Zinfandel, Cornith, or Cabernet grapes, as well as Grenache, Syrah, or Morvedre, leaving in their seeds for a “rustic crunch.” But it is the sweet, incredibly intense Coronation grapes that make this cake what it is and while it may be traditional to use wine grapes, I don’t think I would appreciate that bit of roughage from the seeds here.
They might have a fancy sounding name, but Sovereign Coronation grapes are now the most commonly planted variety of seedless table grapes in southern Ontario and British Columbia. A descendant of the deep-blue Concord, they have their ancestor’s characteristic sweet-and-sour taste that bursts in the mouth. Virtually seedless with a deep, vibrant purple colour, these are not your average table grapes.
There are two components that take this cake over the top for me, Coronation grapes the size of cultivated blueberries and olive oil. I have an obsession with creating cakes made of olive oil in the Mediterranean tradition. Butter usually takes centre stage in baking when thinking of some of my favourites like butter tarts, buttery cream frosting and shortbread cookies. But there is something that draws me back time and time again to olive oil. In warm-weather Mediterranean countries where olives grow, and where butter spoils quickly, sweets are more likely to be made with age-old olive oil. In Italy, bakers add olive oil to everything from biscotti to apple cakes. In Spain and Morocco, the zesty character of orange semolina cake is enhanced with fruity-flavoured olive oil. The tender, crumbly Greek cookies kourambiedes, too, are made with olive oil. Oil will tenderize your cake batter and help keep it moist. So it is often used in fruity, dense quick breads and muffins that are leavened with baking powder and baking soda. The trick is keeping mixing to a minimum to prevent developing tough strands of gluten.
The original recipe for this Winemakers’s cake is by Rolando Beramendi at Italy’s fine Tuscan estate Capezzana, where this intriguing not-too-sweet cake appeared frequently at the table during the fall harvest. Note that the cake is prepared with half butter and half olive oil, producing an unusually light and moist cake. It should be served slightly warm or at room temperature with a touch of whipped cream and of course a glass of wine.
- 1½ cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ 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
- 1½ cups red seedless grapes
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Icing sugar for garnish (optional)
- 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.
- Sift flour and next 3 ingredients into bowl. Whisk ¾ 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. If incorporating grapes into the batter to have grapes uniform throughout, coat with a little flour to prevent them sinking to the bottom.
- 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. Sprinkle with icing sugar if desired. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.