We were passing through Montalcino on our way to a jazz festival in Sienna when we decided to stop and refresh ourselves. After strolling the piazzas and alleyways of this ancient village, we ducked into a caffe for a glass of Brunello and a most wonderful torta made with local grapes. I recreated this cake from memory, in honor of that splendid afternoon.
I have no story, other than spotting the recipe a couple of years ago, trying it, and loving it. Originally I was tempted to replace some of the flour with ground walnuts or to brush it with rosemary syrup, but, really, to my taste, it's perfect as is. The pure, puckery flavor of grape and citrus, mellow vanilla, and peppery olive oil is not easily forgotten (I won't complain, however, if you serve it with a dollop of fresh ricotta, sweetened with honey and lightened with cream).
Winemaker's Grape Cake from Patricia Wells at Home in Provence by Patricia Wells
When you try this cake, the grapes will suggest raisins, but juicy and bright. Wells recommends using Zinfandel, Cornith, or Cabernet grapes, as well as Grenache, Syrah, or Morvedre, leaving in their seeds for a "rustic crunch", or seedless Red Flame. I tend to use tiny Champagne grapes because they're fairly easy to find this time of year, seedless, and super sweet (they're also adorable).
1 1/2 c AP flour
3/4 tsp b. powder
large pinch of salt
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
Zest of 1 orange, grated
2 lg eggs, room temp.
2/3 cup sugar
4 tbl unsalted butter, melted
1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 c whole milk, room temp.
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
10 ounces (approx. 2 cups) small, flavorful grapes
|Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour a 9" round cake pan. |
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the lemon zest and orange zest, and toss to coat the zest with flour.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and lemon-colored, about 3 minutes. Add the butter, oil, milk and vanilla extract, and mix until blended.
Spoon flour mixture mixture into the batter and stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix once more (don't overmix, or it will be rubbery). Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquids.
Stir in about 3/4 of the grapes into the batter. Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth out the top with a spatula.
Bake for 15 minutes, then sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining grapes. Bake until the top is golden brown and the cake feels firm when pressed with a fingertip, about 35 minutes more, for a total baking time of approx. 50 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. After 10 minutes, run a knife along the sides of the pan and remove from pan. Serve at room temperature.