Saturday, October 3, 2009

A strange and beautiful cake

To the husband's surprise, I made a grape cake today.

Well, let me back up. He wasn't completely shocked; I'd been muttering the whole week about all of the grapes we had to use up. It's possible to eat quite a few grapes just as they are, plucking them off the bunch and popping them in your mouth as you go about your day. But it's not possible for two people to eat two big sackfuls. I knew something had to be done with them.

I'd even begun planting the idea of the grape cake. But every time I mentioned it, he repeated, "Grape cake?" in a tone somewhere between disbelief and repulsion.

You may know this, but there aren't a lot of things you can do with grapes. But I kept coming across this one recipe for grape cake, adapted from a Patricia Wells original. I figured now was the time to try it.

First I took a photo of the grapes, which were a stunning deep, dark purple.

Then I set about making the cake, which was nothing too earth-shattering, in fact quite similar to both the raspberry buttermilk cake and the hangover cake I made over the summer. When I took it out of the oven, I was struck by how beautiful and strange it looked. It reminded me of some focaccia I'd once made with black olives and sea salt.

Although the cooking time the recipe gave was off by a good 13 minutes, luckily I am the kind of cook that lives in constant fear of over-cooking and over-baking things. While sometimes this is a certain flaw (like when I realize the pork roast, instead of being dry as I feared is undercooked in the center--trichinosis, anyone?), in a case like this, it's a good trait. I nervously started checking on the cake much earlier than recommended and it was a good thing I did or it would have been hard as a dog biscuit.

The cake itself had a nice crumb, moist from olive oil and milk.

But, to my dismay, the cake was as weird as the husband had predicted. The grapes seemed both unattractively withered and freakishly large, and I couldn't help feeling reminded of Mickey Mouse's nose every time I looked at one.

Also, it turns out hot, cooked grapes don't taste good. They lose the crisp juiciness which makes a grape a grape. Instead they seem heavy and soft in a frankly stomach-turning way.

The husband really gave it a try but couldn't finish his piece.

I finished mine, but only because whenever I make something, even if I don't like it, I feel strangely haughty and protective of it. "It's really not bad," I kept saying, "if you like hot, soft grapes."

Who am I kidding? That poor cake is sitting on the counter right now, enjoying its last few minutes of life. It's compost bin-bound and it knows it. In the future, I'll take my grapes raw, thank you very much. And, of course, in a bottle of wine.


  1. Oh, that's too bad. It SOUNDED like such a good idea. And I think it's very pretty--looks like clafouti. (I laughed out loud at Mickey Mouse's nose) Thanks for sparing me this--it's something I might have tried! I guess there's a reason we don't have a lot of recipes for grape cakes...

  2. Funny post!! It sure was a good idea- you never know til you try.

  3. A great idea! A pity it wasn't successful...



  4. I'm sorry that I couldn't get behind the grape cake. The cake part was good, but the grape part, well...

  5. Oh no! I hate it when thing don't work out how I want. I'm not sure I would feel it for hot, soft grapes either, but it's too bad since it had such promise.

  6. Thanks, everyone. You live and you learn...not to make grape cakes.

  7. Thanks for this post. I also laughed out loud when I read the Mickey Mouse nose part - that was just too funny. Thanks for being honest about this baking failure. I could totally see my husband responding the same way,and me feeling somehow indignant too.

  8. Just back from hols and read this post - and yes, I too laughed out loud at Mickey's nose :). Lucky you tried this out - I would have been tempted and probably as disappointed. I've seen other bloggers dry their grapes to use them like raisins, maybe there's a solution.

  9. I've seen a lot of baked goods with grapes and always thought that seemed... strange. I'm glad you tried this one for me so I don't have to bother. No grape cakes - noted!

  10. I think you've still got a winning grape cake recipe in you.

  11. I'm glad you all enjoyed the post. I'm convinced that failures make for better blogging! Cee...I appreciate your confidence in me but I'll pass the grape cake baton to you :)

  12. "The grapes seemed both unattractively withered and freakishly large, and I couldn't help feeling reminded of Mickey Mouse's nose every time I looked at one..."

    yes, that'll turn a person off real quick. :) too bad, too, because it's an interesting notion. the cake part looks pretty terrific, but i suppose it's too late to make a trifle or something with it.