Our Farm Fresh to You CSA box delivers our fruit in small paper bags. We take the larger pieces of fruit out of their bags and arrange them in various places as part of our endless experiment in food storage. (Fridge? Hanging basket? Kitchen table? Cupboard?) But grapes I like to eat cold, so the whole bag goes straight into the fridge. We’ve spent the last two weeks munching our way through an incredible bag of grapes – huge, dark, sweet, and firm, with that special, almost perfumed Muscat-type flavor that drives me wild. But while we munched we never realized we were neglecting another bag of grapes, similarly delicious but of a less firm variety.
We are a sensitive bunch when it comes to fruit texture. Mealy apples, spongy nectarines, hard plums – all go sadly into the compost. And this bag of soft grapes (soft, but not rotten!) was about to follow suit. But they were so pretty… So I hopped online to see if I could find a delicious grape dessert. I figured cooked fruit is supposed to be soft, so it could be a win-win for everyone.
Using the fantastic Food Blog Search, I found several recipes for grape pie and different types of grape cake. I have a horror of making pie crust, and have never yet attempted a gluten-free pie crust. Also, Duck hates pie absolutely. I decided on a recipe for Grape Cake from Supper in Stereo, only of course the recipe was neither vegan nor gluten-free.
If I have a nemesis these days, it would be vegan, gluten-free baking. Last weekend Duck and I tried to make Rebecca Reilly GF mint-chocolate brownies using egg replacer instead of eggs. When the timer went off and I pulled the brownie pan out of the oven, it was full of a bubbling, boiling, oil-slicked mass of goo that hardened as it cooled to something completely inedible. (I was trying to describe the texture to my mom: “They were hard, but not like crisp hard…” “Hard like resin?,” she suggested. “Yes, exactly!”) Now I have all this mint glaze and nothing to glaze with it.
I’ve made four separate batches of not very good biscuits in the last month and a half. The only ones that came out well were the Pamela’s Baking Mix drop biscuits, which were fantastic, but I would love to not have to rely on a store-bought mix. I feel overwhelmed – the things that make vegan baking possible and the things that make gluten-free baking work are each canceled out by the restrictions of the other diet. I miss the days when I baked for sheer pleasure as a quick afternoon activity, or whipped something up a few hours before a potluck and knew it would be the star of the show.
I have used egg replacer successfully in GF muffins, but it doesn’t cut it when it comes to cake. I did some research online to check out the various egg substitution options and saw flax seed, bananas, silken tofu, soy yogurt, and applesauce suggested. The Vegan Baking post at the Post Punk Kitchen was especially detailed. I didn’t have most of the stuff on the list, so I decided to just kind of wing it, using flax to sub for one egg and applesauce for the other. (Although for every five people who claim “I use applesauce all the time instead of eggs, it works great!” there is one intimidating person chiding, “Applesauce subs for oil, not eggs!”)
The reason I chose this recipe is that it already used ground almonds for part of the flour, so I decided to up the proportion of almond meal and use my last bit of Pamela’s baking mix for the rest. I changed a few more things around to adjust for the new ingredients, followed the directions for the original recipe, put it in the oven and prayed.
This cake has a very fun element to it, which is that 15 minutes into the baking time you take it out of the oven and arrange a bunch of grapes on top, then sprinkle the whole thing with coarse sugar. This sets the grapes up into a golden, springy cake top and looks just beautiful. I baked my cake for about as long as directed, then let it cool and sliced it open.
Totally uncooked inside. The nice thing about vegan cooking is that nothing bad will happen to you from eating undercooked cake, but no one wants to eat a “slice” of wet batter. I put it back in the oven. And back, and back, and back. I don’t even know if it works to put something back in the oven after it has cooled – I’ve certainly never tried before this. But I really wanted this cake to work, at least to get to the point of edibility.
After another 20 minutes or so I decreed it done, and we ate it warm with spoons from a bowl. It was heavenly. That sexy, perfumed true grape flavor, in a rich, buttery base of almonds and lemon zest, with a crisp topping from the sugar sprinkling. I don’t know if cooking it longer would have finally resulted in an actual cake, but I suspect not. There was just no rising happening, no place for air pockets to puff the cake up and give it texture and form. This was more like a bread pudding, but with grapes instead of raisins. It was phenomenal. I can’t wait for more grapes to go soft so I can make it again!
Highly Delicious Grape Cake Pudding Thingamajig (vegan & GF-ized from Supper in Stereo)
1 T. ground flax + 3 T. water, whisked well
1/4 C. applesauce
2/3 cups sugar, plus extra for finishing the cake
4 Tbsp melted Earth Balance
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup hemp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup Pamela’s Baking Mix
1 1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 tsp baking power (because of baking powder already in Pamela’s)
a pinch of salt
zest of one lemon (I keep a supply in my freezer)
2 cups flavourful grapes
Butter and flour a 9″ round cake pan, then set it aside. Preheat your oven to 350 F.
Beat the flax mixture, applesauce, and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until they’re thick. Beat in hemp milk, Earth Balance, oil, and vanilla.
Sift together the baking mix, almonds, baking powder and salt. Add the zest, tossing it to make sure it is well-distributed. Then stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, making sure it is well-combined. Allow this mixture to sit for 10 minutes to make sure the flour has absorbed the liquids.
Gently stir in 1 1/2 cups of grapes, then transfer the batter to your cake pan.
Bake on the middle rack for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, pull out your cake and top it with the reserved grapes. Sprinkle coarse granulated sugar overtop. Bake for about 1 hour, until the top of the cake is golden and springy and the center of the cake is cooked. (I had to actually dig into mine to see if it was cooked – the top was gorgeous but the inside was raw. I would not make this dish for the first time planning to present it to company!) Remove from the oven and eat warm as a pudding or allow to cool in the pan for a slightly firmer treat.