Grapes aren’t much of a baking fruit. The can be cooked, and are actually delicious when roasted, but they don’t show up in pies, muffins or cakes with any kind of real regularity. I’ve baked them into loaves of bread before with great success, and decided to create a cake that would work well with them.This cake is definitely Italian-inspired. Not only does it include grapes, but I also used olive oil and polenta in the cake batter. I also served the cake following a pasta dinner, though I’m not about to count that towards the Italian-ness of the cake.
Polenta is an Italian dish made from ground cornmeal that has been cooked to a thick, porridgy consistency. At the store, you’ll see cornmeal that is also labeled “polenta.” This is still a dry cornmeal, but it can have a slightly finer texture than regular cornmeal. Any kind of cornmeal – white, yellow, coarse, fine – will work in this recipe, with coarser grinds giving the finished cake a slightly more rustic texture. Olive oil contributes a slightly richer feel to the cake than plain vegetable oil (e.g. canola) will do. Any olive oil will work here, but if you have an option to choose a fruitier one, or one with a more distinctive flavor, it will add some extra dimension to the cake. The olive oil also helps to keep the cake moist, and the cake will store pretty well for a day or two without much of a change in texture or flavor.
The finished cake looks beautiful, especially if you choose smallish red grapes to use in the cake. Stir some of the grapes into the batter, and spread about half of them on top of the cake before baking. This prevents them from sinking to the bottom of the pan, as well as creating a lovely presentation. The cake has a slightly coarse texture because of the cornmeal, but it creates a nice contrast with the sweet grapes. Serve this cake with some whipped cream or ice cream, and while it is good at room temperature, it is also quite good warm.
Olive Oil, Grape and Polenta Cake
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal/polenta
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp olive oil
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk (low fat is ok)
1 1/2 cups red grapes
Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9-inch round springform pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and milk until smooth. Stir in flour mixture, mixing just until no streaks of flour remain visible in the batter. Stir in about half of the grapes.
Pour batter into prepared pan and spread into an even lay with a spatula. Sprinkle remaining grapes over the top of the cake.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed.
Cool cake for at least an hour before removing from pan and serving. Let cool completely before slicing if you do not intend to serve the cake while slightly warm.