Sultana Grape Cake

September showing signs of exhaustion and no longer able to reasonably promise a delayed chunk of summer, as the days are chilling around the edges and drawing in their nights, my thoughts had begun to turn to the next long season - winter - never a winning prospect when you have been used to warmth and light however brief that exposure. But before I get too bogged down in Sophie Gråbøl’s latest sweater choices and the noir ahead I must not to lose sight of the richness of autumn waving its apples and figs and pears and pumpkins full in my face while I am making early heavy weather in my head.

Autumn certainly has its own charms and a trip to my local Middle Eastern supplier a week ago jolted me back to the more current season offering as it did not only the beautiful purple figs that I was expecting but also some tiny, sweet, Turkish sultana grapes that have flown in alongside them. I always imagine that I will bring them home and make Moorish influenced Meditterranean dishes and yet, even once I have absent-mindedly eaten my way through a ludicrous number as I search my books for inspiration, I seem to have enough left over to put me in mind of cake instead. Romantically, I want it to be from Arabia, or, at least, from Arab influenced Sicily, but, hard as I look, the grape cake ideas that I find invariably have their roots in Tuscany. I give in. I have made a mongrel cake - Tuscan inspired, partly Turkish in provenance, made in England from imported ingredients. Hardly a model for the Slow Food Movement, but, nonetheless, popular amongst its audience and a lighter form of fruit cake than the traditional sultana heavy varieties.

The cake is based on Jamie’s ‘Torta di Nada’ - a grape cake normally made with Italian purple fragola grapes made instead with blueberries by Jamie and published in 'Jamie’s Italy’. I substituted reduced vin moelleux (desert wine) for the milk and added a sprinkle of demerara sugar to the top for some crunch and a little visual interest for a version lacking the punch of the purple in the top layer. I do love Jamie, at least when he is not mistaking himself for a new messiah and wading in a little deeper into some complicated problems than his level of expertise always allows (but I suppose, more generously, at least it shows he cares) but his recipes for baking, in my experience, should often be read in the context of others. Baking, I am sure, is one of Jamie’s strengths, but I have a feeling that there may be home economists involved in his publications that aim to make these recipes more universally friendly and perhaps they lose a little of their finesse in so doing.

But I have delayed this post long enough for lack of enthusiasm for re-writing a recipe that I am not sure I would make again without further tweaking, so I will give you a link instead for someone else who has (American measures I’m afraid) and who has made a few, very minor, tweaks of her own and acknowledge that it is not bad as is.

And for now, I will add some romantic imaginings of the vendange in sunny September days on the continent to my day (painfully hard work as it actually is for the participants), put thoughts of winter and woolies on the back burner and enjoy the 'decent sunny spells’ the BBC is predicting will come out of the clouds here this afternoon, and maybe take a look at Claire Ptak’s 2008 grape cake suggestion for the next time.

“The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.” ~Galileo

Erica x