30 December 2006

Winemaker's Coronation Grape Cake

Winemaker's Coronation Grape Cake

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. When Helene asked me be a guest at La Cuisine de'Helene it hit me!I would forget about these types of comfort foods and make a seasonal Winemakers Cake which would be the perfect recipe for the marriage of our two blogs. 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!! The fact that Helene and I have both lived in British Columbia and Ontario makes this the perfect recipe to bake for a guest appearance over at Helene's blog. Helene and I first became friends when she lived in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. Despite our best intentions we never met until I visited Ontario this summer and had dinner with many other local area bloggers at Ruby Watchco in Toronto.

For many years my positive results for baking cakes came from a box so why would I choose a cake to highlight? My first attempt at making a cake from scratch was a flop and, right then and there, I swore off baking. Gradually over the years I eased my way back into baking slowly attempting more complex desserts for special occasions and reintroducing baked goods back into my life. I am happy to say I have had some great successes. The key to success is patience and a little knowledge. Baking is a precise science and cannot be approached like a bull in a china shop.

There are two components that take this cake over the top for me, Coronation grapes 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.

When you have too many Coronation grapes for words freeze them!!! Freezing Coronation grapes is simple. Wash, dry and pack in airtight containers and freeze stems and all. No sugar is required because the natural high sugar and acid level in British Columbia Coronation Grapes act as a natural preservative. Your kids and teething babies can eat them as a snack right from the freezer. Frozen grapes can replace fresh grapes in every recipe as they retain their intense colour and flavour and hold their shape when thawed.

This weekend was the beginning of the annual Okanagan Fall Wine Festival. This celebration of the harvest is a perfect marriage of wine and culinary tourism and the perfect time to celebrate the harvest. Fall is the perfect time in the Okanagan to watch the grapes ripen in the sun and indulge yourself. Hot, dry weather, sheltering mountains and rich soil blend to create one of North America's most productive wine regions next to the Niagara region in Ontario where they are also celebrating. The picturesque backdrop to many of these wineries is worth the visit alone with lush vineyards and soaring views. Some wineries are open year-round for tours and tastings, however, most wine-related activities occur spring through fall.

During the festival you can experience vineyard tours, lunches, dinners, events and the fall wine harvest at over 100 wineries in the valley. For the next 10 days guests and locals enjoy their choice of over 165 events throughout the valley which are focused on wine, food, education and the arts in one of North America's most spectacular settings. Ontario where Helene lives also has a wine festival in the Niagara region.

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!

**Winemaker's Coronation Grape Cake**

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 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
1 1/2 cups red seedless grapes
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons sugar
Icing sugar for garnish (optional)

1. 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.

2. Sift flour and next 3 ingredients into bowl. Whisk 3/4 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.

3. 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.

Serves 8 - 10

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