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Try harvest-fresh grapes in an olive oil cake

Recipe: Red grapes roast atop a lemon-scented batter

Cake on yellow plate with grapes
Grapes top the polenta-specked lemon and olive oil cake. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Olive oil, red grapes, a lemon and two brown eggs
These beautiful grapes will be the star in the cake.

The fruit at the farmers market right now exemplifies the change of weather and change of seasons: The last peaches and nectarines over here, the early-season persimmons and pomegranates over there. In between are pears, apples and, oh my, look at those grapes!

I don't buy grapes often, but the displays of red, green and black grapes from several vendors could not be ignored. I settled on two pounds of beautiful Crimson Flame grapes, and then dug into recipes to see how to use them.

This recipe, which has olive oil and polenta in the batter, is one I adapted from a gluten-free version on the blog This Mess is Ours. I guess I'm on an Italian-inspired baking kick this fall, but there's nothing wrong with that.

This cake is sweet enough to serve for dessert with espresso, but it's uncomplicated enough to be a breakfast cake. Other fruit could go on top instead of grapes, but try it first with your favorite red seedless. Left whole, the grapes roast into delicious little nuggets of flavor.

I used medium-grind polenta here, but if the grittiness would bother you, use fine-grind or even regular cornmeal.

Pan with grapes
The cake batter is ready to be topped with half the
grapes to begin baking.

Olive Oil Cake with Polenta and Roasted Grapes

Serves 9-12


1/2 cup almond flour or almond meal

1/2 cup good-quality olive oil, plus more for pan

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (can use gluten-free flour if desired), plus more for pan

1/4 cup polenta, fine or medium grind

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs

2/3 cup sugar

Zest from 1 large lemon

1/3 milk (dairy or non-dairy, but not non-fat)

2 cups red seedless grapes, washed but left whole

Confectioner's sugar, for topping, optional


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet, and scatter the almond flour over the paper. Toast the almond flour in the oven for 4 to 5 minutes, until it is fragrant, but be careful not to scorch it. Remove from oven and allow to cool a few minutes.

Brush a round or square 8-inch pan with olive oil, then dust with a bit of all-purpose flour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, the toasted almond flour, polenta, baking powder and kosher salt.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the eggs, sugar and lemon zest on high until the mixture is light and fluffy. With the mixer on low speed, stream in the olive oil until combined. Then, alternately add the flour mixture and the milk, starting with about one-third of the flour, then half the milk. Repeat, then stir in the remainder of the flour.

Fresh out of the oven, the cake can be topped with confectioner's
sugar or left plain.
Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Scatter about 1 cup of the grapes over the top of the batter. Bake for 15 minutes, then add the rest of the grapes to top, pressing down on them just slightly. Continue baking for 25 to 27 minutes more, until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool about 15 minutes on a wire rack. Sprinkle confectioner's sugar on top, if using, and slice to serve.


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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