The Case of Sinking Grapes

Who doesn’t like grapes?  In most markets we are lucky to have fresh, juicy grapes available year round. So, in the dark days of winter, an attractive bowl of grapes set out on a counter can be a nourishing and welcome site.  

courtesy Pixabay

For easy snacking, I like to rinse, drain, and cut up large bunches and place smaller portions in a covered container.  Stored in the fridge, the grapes are reach-in ready and will hold for a week or longer.   

We tend to overlook grapes as a handy option in baked desserts. Here’s a happy idea that makes perfect sense: a lemon-scented cake laced with polenta and grapes. What’s not to like?  Polenta provides flavor and structure and the grapes add entertaining pockets of sweet juiciness.

Bonus: Tiny test corners

But what to do about those errant grapes that stubbornly sink to the bottom of the cake?  Trust Martha Stewart to come up with a clever solution for the irritating dilemma of sinking grapes. She begins by scattering only half of the grapes on top of the batter before placing it in oven.  When the cake is partially set, the remaining grapes are strewn about the top and baked until golden brown.   

Remember to use seedless grapes—red is pretty, but any color that strikes your fancy will work.

Serve the cake warm with a light dusting of confections’ sugar and perhaps a dollop of whipped cream.  Should you have left-overs, the cake will hold well for two or three days at room temperature.  After that, store what’s left in the fridge. 

Polenta-Grape Cake

Inspired by Martha Stewart’s Olive Oil Cake with Red Grapes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup polenta or coarsely ground cornmeal
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • ½ cup olive oil or a combo with melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 cups red or green grapes, washed and dried

Directions

  1. Line an 8” round or square pan with parchment and then spray with baking spray.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. In a larger mixing bowl, beat the eggs until light. Gradually add the sugar and lemon zest, beating until fluffy. 
  4. Slowly beat in the oil. In 3 additions mix in the flour alternately with the milk and 2 portions of the dry ingredients, ending with dry mixture. 
  5. Spoon the batter into the baking dish. Scatter ½ of the grapes over the top and bake for 15 minutes. Remove and top the cake with the remaining grapes, bake 25 minutes longer.  Cool in pan on rack for 15 minutes then turn out and cut into portions.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve. If desired accompany with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.  Serves 6-8. 

 

A Natural Wonder: Strawberries and Cream Polenta Orange Cake

This weekend we have finally been able to string a few warm days together.  It’s a welcome reminder that summer is on the way and flats of fresh strawberries are just around the corner.

One of my favorite ways to show off the season’s best berries is with Polenta Orange Cake, a low squat European-style beauty imbued with a slight crunchy-sweet corn essence.  The orange zest and polenta join together in a burnished gold crumb dense enough to welcome a good soaking of orange syrup or juicy berries.

Strawberries & Ricotta Cream Orange Polenta Cake

For strawberries and cream cake, slice the cake in half torte style, fill it with sliced strawberries, and spoon on whipped cream. Or, for my favorite ricotta cream, cut the whipped cream with half ricotta.  It’s a natural wonder.

Polenta Orange Cake

Ingredients
Cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup medium to fine-grained cornmeal or polenta
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 orange, zest and @ 1/3 cup juice
Orange Syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
1 orange, cut in half
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Line a 9″ cake pan with parchment or foil and spray with baker’s spray.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.  In a mixing bowl, cream butter until light, slowly add the sugar and beat until light. Add the eggs one at a time, until fluffy.  Add the vanilla, orange juice, the zest and mix. Don’t worry if it curdles. Add dry ingredients, mixing just to incorporate.  Scrape bowl down and spread the batter evenly into pan.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes, until cake springs back when touched.  Remove from oven and brush liberally with orange syrup while still warm.
  4. For the Syrup:  place all but extract in a small saucepan and bring to a boil; continue to boil briskly for 6 to 8 minutes, until it begins to thicken.  Let cool slightly, remove orange and strain.  Add the almond extract and brush over the warm cake.

Strawberries and Cream Cake
4 cups strawberries, rinsed, hulled, sliced (save a few for garnish)
2 tablespoons sugar
Sweetened Whipped Cream topping
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

  1. Prepare strawberries and cream:  combine the berries with sugar and chill; save a few pretty whole ones for garnish.  Whip the cream, add the sugar and vanilla.
  2. To assemble:  slice the cake in half horizontally, brush the bottom layer with orange syrup, layer with some of the sliced berries, spread with whipped cream.  Add the top layer, top with more berries and garnish with whipped cream and few pretty berries.  Serves 6 or more.  The cake can be baked a day ahead.