It’s been a week of food experimentation for me and, after the Butterscotch Pudding, I was craving something a little offbeat. Well, I mean something offbeat for me. Typically, when I go out to eat, the dessert menu I am provided has a selection of, well, the typical: Chocolate cake, ice creams, your run-of-the-mill pies, and so forth. My home baking usually gravitates toward the same safety net of sweets, and I guess I was just looking to take a walk on the wild side.
Photo courtesy of epicurious
Or maybe just the weird side. After all, we’re talking about a cake. With grapes.
I like cake and I like grapes, but the thought of them coming together was a little weird for me. Would it be heavenly or heinous? There was only one way to find out.
Warm Almond Cakes with Grapes
Adapted from Epicurious
1 cup seedless grapes, halved
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Special equipment: 4 shallow 1/3-cup gratin dishes (1/2 inch deep) or a 9-inch pie plate
I didn’t make this overly difficult because I was making it on a weeknight and had too many other things going on, so there are a couple of things I did differently, but it’s not too big of a deal. If you want to check out the original recipe on epicurious, it’s linked inside the ingredients list.
Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Pulse almonds with 2 tablespoons sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Transfer to a small bowl and repeat with remaining almonds and 1 more tablespoon sugar.
This sugar and almond mixture is going to set the texture for your cakes. So, if you like your cakes with a little more chop to it, don’t process it so finely. If you want your cakes to be a little smoother in texture, keep grinding.
Normally I’m not a big fan of these types of textures in cakes, but this time around I didn’t mind it — I wasn’t in love with it, but it wasn’t off putting. It was nice. The batter is light and moist so the almonds are not distracting when you eat it. I will say that next time I make this, I will grind my almonds up a bit more — most of it is fine, but if you look closely at the above picture, the fragments near the center of the blade didn’t get chopped up as much as I would have liked. Next time I’ll make sure the almonds are a little more consistent, but that’s just a personal gripe and nothing to do with the recipe itself.
Beat together butter and remaining 6 tablespoons sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and beat in ground almonds, flour, and salt until just combined.
My butter was chilled solid when I took it out of the refrigerator so, without unwrapping it from the paper, I nuked it in the microwave for 20 seconds, then left it sitting out while I made dinner. When I was able to start dessert, the butter was ready to go.
Again, I didn’t over complicate this. I did add the eggs one at a time, but I mixed until they were incorporated, making sure that everything was properly stirred — no egg white globs, no yolk trails in the crevices of the bowl, no beaks.
The point is, I didn’t beat this to death. Just make sure it’s all mixed. It’s a pretty simple recipe, so don’t sweat it. Throw your stuff in a small bowl, use your mixer on it and when it’s all done, it should look something like this:
Divide batter among gratin dishes and press grapes lightly into batter. Bake in dishes on a baking sheet until cake is firm and pale golden with slightly darker edges, about 20 minutes. If using a 9-inch pie plate, bake for 30 – 35 minutes.
Transfer cakes to a rack and cool slightly in dishes before serving.
I didn’t have the small gratin dishes they described above and I like the idea of giving everyone an individual little dessert dish rather than having to slice something up, so I used the next best thing I had in my house, which were gratin dishes a little larger than what the recipe called for. The mixture ended up being divided evenly between my three dishes, so I knew I would need to bake it a little longer. It ended up taking only 23 minutes as the slightly larger version.
Unfortunately, when they came out, they had risen above the grapes, totally engulfing them in the cake. Most likely this is due to having poured in more batter than was prescribed, so it didn’t look like the professional picture (at the top) but whatever — I wasn’t taking the cake to the prom and showing it off, I was going to take it to the table and eat it.
While I was eating it, I snapped a shot of the insides so everyone could get a better idea of the texture. Here it is:
At first glance, it may resemble cornbread, but it isn’t. It’s light and cakey (yeah, I’m making up words now) and very sweet, and the texture of the almonds really comes through nicely. I was concerned that the almonds may be too crunchy, but they do bake up nicely in the dish and soften.
As for the grape aspect — in the picture above you may see a little bit of the grape juice “bleeding” into the cake. The little tang of the black, seedless grapes I used were actually a pleasant surprise. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked that the grapes hadn’t bled through to the entire dish, but I think that would have cheapened it. Like I said, the tang of the grapes were a neat little surprise. Without the grapes, it would have just been a boring almond cake, one that could be nicely served with a side of ice cream. With the grapes, it was a little something different.
This ended up being a fairly fast and easy dish, one that came out well on a weeknight. After I had prepared dinner and placed it in the oven to cook, I started working on the cake batter.
The batter only took me about 15 – 20 minutes. Once it was done, I covered the tops of the dishes and put them into the fridge until dinner had finished up in the oven. Then I just swapped everything out — dinner was plated and the dessert went in to bake. By the time dinner had been eaten, dessert was coming out.
I liked the timing on this a lot. I liked that I could pop the dessert in the oven and it would be ready by the time everyone had eaten. As for cleanliness, I only used one small mixing bowl, my food processor and a small cutting board (to half the grapes) to create it.
In terms of a weeknight dish, it was mostly speedy. As I said earlier, I liked the way the timing went with having it prepared. Taste wise, it was delicious and fun. I wouldn’t say it was elegant — grapes give it a little more casual and fun flare to it, and it was definitely filling. Not that there’s anything wrong with being casual, but that knocks the grading down for me just a little bit, because I don’t think this is something I could dress up and serve at a fancy dinner gathering. This was a great and fun little dessert, one that I will make again… although that doesn’t mean I’m totally won over by the idea of grapes in a dessert. Tastes great, sounds foreign so, if you’re looking for something a little off beat, here’s one to try.
Overall, deliciousness wins the day so I’m going to give pretty high marks for this one.
Weeknight Cooking grade: A-
Overall Dessert Grade: A-