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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
Beautiful grapes will 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 Dec. 10:

Take advantage of these dry but crisp conditions. It’s time to get out the rake!

* Rake leaves away from storm drains and keep gutters clear.

* Fallen leaves can be used for mulch and compost. Chop up large leaves with a couple of passes with a lawn mower.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they’re dormant. Without their foliage, trees are easier to prune.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Make sure to take frost precautions with new transplants and sensitive plants. Mulch, water and cover tender plants in the late afternoon to retain warmth.

* Succulent plants are at particular risk if temperatures drop below freezing. Don’t water succulents before frost; cover instead. Use cloth sheets, not plastic. Make sure to remove coverings during the day.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eaves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Plant garlic (December's the last chance -- the ground is getting cold!) and onions for harvest in summer.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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