Like sour cherries or ramps, Concord grapes, which hit markets in September, have an all-too-brief season that begs for you to eat as many as you can before they’re gone. They have a showy, intense flavor that’s more grape lollipop than grape. They’re a pain to deseed, but the magic of harnessing that overstated grapeness makes them worth the effort. Here, I’ve baked the grapes into a rustic cornmeal cake that works wonderfully as a quiet backdrop for the Concords’ huge flavor.
Cornmeal also makes for an especially great crumb – tender, textured, and delightfully crumbly, while olive oil lends an undercurrent of richness without fighting the other flavors. The Concord grapes nestled throughout the cake don’t just add that nostalgic grape jelly flavor they also provide a juicy pop to each bite.
A note about working with Concord grapes. There’s no getting around the fact that they’re a difficult fruit. The skins are tough and tannic. The seeds are hard to remove. Still, wrestling with the skins and flicking or squeezing out each stubborn seed offers dazzling rewards. But if you can’t bear the work, the seedless hybrid Thomcords can be substituted though their flavor doesn’t have the same pop.
- 1 cup fine grind cornmeal
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar, divided
- 1/4 cup buttermilk, well-shaken
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (use something with a pleasant, mild flavor)
- 1 heaping cup seeded Concord grapes, divided
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a 9 x 9-inch square baking pan. If desired, line bottom of pan with a buttered square of parchment.
- For best results seeding Concord grapes, start with fresh, firm grapes and use a sharp knife to cut in half; flick seeds out with the knife tip. Don't worry if skins slip from the flesh or if seeds needs to be squeezed out.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk to combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and sea salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl, combine eggs and 3/4 cup sugar, and beat until thick and frothy, about 2 minutes. Add buttermilk and zest, and beat 1 minute more. Scrape down sides, switch mixer to medium speed, and drizzle in olive oil. Switch mixer to low, add half the flour mixture; as soon as it's incorporated, add the second half.
- Strain any accumulated juices from the grapes, and fold all but 1/4 cup into the batter.
- Spoon batter into prepared baking pan and bake 5 minutes. Working quickly, remove pan from oven, scatter remaining grapes over top, pressing gently into the batter. Finish with 2 tablespoons sugar. Slide back into oven and bake until cake is a rich golden hue and the cake begins to pull away from the sides, 25 - 30 minutes more.
- Cool 30 minutes, slice, and serve. Cake is best day-of, but will keep well covered at room temperature for a day.