Italian ‘Winemakers’ Cake

I saw a recipe in a local newspaper and researched further as I’d never heard of using grapes in cakes. It turns out this is a traditional rustic Italian cake, usually made with the remains from the wine harvest.

I’ve combined elements from loads of different recipes and added my own twists to make this GF cake – perfect with tea (or wine!).

Serves: up to 24 depending on tin/portion size

Ingredients

  • 60g unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly; plus additional cold butter to grease tin
  • 200g red seedless grapes, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs (62-68g each when weighed in the shell), separated into 2 large bowls – see Eggs footnote
  • 140g light muscavado sugar (soft light brown, or golden caster, can substitute)
  • 60ml (55g if weighing) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 80ml (80g if weighing) whole or 2% milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 180g gluten-free plain flour
  • 20g cornflour
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground mace or nutmeg (or, some freshly grated nutmeg)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 large orange (or, 2 clementines/satsumas): finely grated zest only
  • 3 large pinches of demerara sugar (or another large-grained sugar)
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Kit

  • A 23cm / 9″ round, loose-based or springform cake tin;
    or, a standard traybake tin 9x12″ / 23x30cm
  • Baking/parchment paper to line tin
  • A milkpan or other small pot; or, a small microwave-safe bowl
  • Chopping board and sharp knife
  • Kitchen paper
  • 2 large mixing bowls
  • A fine citrus grater
  • An electric mixer (hand-held or stand) if you don’t want to whisk by hand
  • Sieve
  • Spatula
  • Cooling rack

Steps
Making the cake:

  1. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of the tin and line fully with paper whilst melting the 60g butter in a small pot on the hob, or in a small bowl in the microwave.
  2. Slice the grapes lengthwise into quarters (or, halves for smaller grapes), and leave between 2 sheets of kitchen paper to remove excess moisture.
  3. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, starting at low speed and gradually increasing to high speed as the colour and texture change.
    (‘Soft peaks’ means that when you lift the beaters out, the peaks flop over almost immediately.)
  4. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cooled melted butter, oil, milk and vanilla on medium speed until creamy, about 3-4 minutes (no need to clean the beaters from the whites).
  5. Sift the flour, cornflour, baking powder, and spices over the yolk mixture and fold in briskly with around 3/4 of the orange zest. Leave to rest whilst the oven heats.
  6. Preheat oven to 180 C  (160 C fan-assisted).
  7. Add 1/3 of the egg whites, folding briskly to loosen the mixture; then add the rest, folding very carefully so you don’t lose the volume, until no white streaks or lumps remain.
  8. Pour the batter into your prepared tin and sprinkle over approx 3/4 of the sliced grapes.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes, then sprinkle over the remaining orange zest, remaining grapes, and the demerara sugar.
  10. Bake another 40 minutes or so, turning the tin mid-way for even baking. When the top is a deep golden brown and the centre feels quite firm to a light finger touch, remove from the oven to a cooling rack. Leave the cake until fully cold (at least 1 hour), then turn out and dust with icing sugar before serving.

Separating Eggs
I’ve used the ‘chiffon’ method to keep the cake as light as possible. You don’t have to do this; you could keep the eggs whole and whisk them with the sugar and wet ingredients without folding in the whisked whites separately.

Attributions and Notes
I had a load of links to recipes from the US, UK, Italy, and Turkey all describing this cake. One or more of them caused a major issue with security on my computer, so I won’t burden you by linking directly to them.

But if you search for ‘Italian grape cake’ you’ll see that there are many variations out there (although, none that I found which are gluten-free) – don’t click if you don’t feel comfortable with the source and especially if you don’t have a robust anti-virus programme on your computer.

Some recipes use all flour and some a mix of flour and cornflour. But the unifying thread in all of them is a combination of butter and oil as opposed to all of one or the other. I was also interested to see that most recipes which are branded as ‘authentic’ use whole grapes. That’s fine if you want ‘authentic’; but for my tasting crowd, quartering the grapes made for a much nicer slice of cake to eat.

A trustworthy source is Epicurious who have this note at the end of their “Winemakers Cake” recipe:
“Over time, I have identified the mystery that discourages many shoppers from buying grapes: the inevitable hazy white film. Though one might understandably assume it’s due to a spray of pesticide, the film is in fact a natural substance produced by the grape. It acts as a protective covering to prevent moisture from penetrating the fruit. It also keeps the skin from cracking when the grape loses moisture. Even better, the film contains nothing toxic! You will find the same harmless film on plums.”

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