Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Grape Cake That Suits Me to a Tea

Since I brought home those richly sweet Niagara grapes from the farmers' market last weekend, I've been experimenting. (Call it research!)

The more I tried to determine how to describe the aroma and the taste of these grapes, and the more I tried to discover what flavors might work well with them, the more I realized that Niagara grapes have an almost floral scent, not unlike jasmine tea.

So I pulled out my tin of jasmine tea and pried off the lid. Sure enough, the two fragrances smelled very similar, and when I set the two side by side, the combination nearly carried me away.

How, then, could I combine the two in a recipe? It didn't take me long to remember a raisin tea cake recipe I developed a couple of years ago, and I pulled out the recipe to see if it would work.

Looking over the ingredients, I was sure that, in theory at least, I could substitute skinned Niagara grapes for the raisins and jasmine tea for the regular black tea. But I wasn't able to put theory into practice until this morning.

Since it takes a while to halve and skin grapes, I worked through that step last evening so as to save myself the time today. (Good thing, too.) With that out of the way, it was -- dare I say it? -- a piece of cake to brew the tea, whip up the batter, and slide it into the oven to bake. Once the cake started to cook, the enticing aroma reassured me that theory would, indeed, prove to work.

I love it when my ideas work out! Not only did the cake smell wonderful, but the first moist, tender bite told me that the combination of flavors was definitely a winner. Sweet grapes, with a taste akin to the jasmine tea, perked up with a bit of fresh lime zest and honey to draw out the complexities of the flavors of both fruit and tea. (The fair Titania, long a fan of jasmine tea with lime, would approve.)

I have plenty left over for breakfasts and morning tea breaks this week. And that suits me just fine.

Niagara Grape and Jasmine Tea Cake

Based on my own Raisin Tea Cake, which is itself based on the "St. James Coffeecake" from My Domestically-Challenged Aunt (one of the few baked items she actually knows how to make well), this morning cake replaces the usual coffee cake with a delicate flavor that resists being too sweet and cloying. You could save this for dessert, but there's no reason to feel guilty about starting your day with it.

2 tsp jasmine tea
1 c boiling water
1 T honey
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 c spelt flour
1/2 c unbleached or whole wheat flour
1/2 c sugar (I like cane juice crystals)
1/4 tsp fresh grated lime peel
1/4 tsp baking soda
dash of salt
1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c Niagara grapes, halved, skinned, and seeded

Steep tea in boiling water 10-15 minutes until strong. Strain tea and add honey and vanilla. Set aside.

Sift together flours, sugar, lime peel, baking soda, and salt. Cut butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Remove 1/2 c of the mix and set it aside. Stir in liquid ingredients and grapes.

Pour into greased 9" square or round baking pan. Sprinkle reserved mixture over the top. Bake at 350 F for 50-60 minutes, until tester inserted in middle comes out clean.

Allow to cool slightly before cutting and serving

Serves 6-8



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