I remember what fall in New York smelled, felt, and looked like.
As you walked along the East River, falling leaves would land at your feet and you could step on them, hearing that heartwarming crunch sound. Shops smelled like cinnamon and oatmeal, and pumpkin Frappuccinos started to make their appearance. The drives to the north, outside Manhattan, were blessed by the color of the Palisades in the distance, which were tinted a gorgeous orange, red and yellow. Maple trees in every garden lay a carpet of crimson leaves. Of all those textures and colors, I miss the maples most.
But today, as we officially enter fall, I am looking at the bright, crisp sunlight tinging my garden of the same orange as the Palisades. The air is fresh, and it smells like the remainders of the storm that hit us last night. there is a serene feel about this day. People paint images in their heads of hot chocolate, truffles, stews and mushroom-hunting. They talk about how cold the winter will be.
But before all of this – before the orange, before the change, before the rain and the mist which already rolls down the hill early in the morning, Italy’s countryside is painted a different color. When fall strikes, Italy is shrouded in a hue of green and purple. Green and purple from figs and grapes, which abound throughout all of September.
Wine makers are harvesting grapes, which will turn into so many kinds of great wine. The vineyards look stunning, and, every time we get out of the house, the fresh wind carries a strong whiff of ripening grapes from the vineyard nearby. We breathe it in deep, and we close our eyes, savoring every step of our evening walks.
How could I not take advantage of this amazing harvest and turn it into something even sweeter?
Very soon, pomegranates, leaves and squash will tinge our land of the same red and orange, too.
But for now, let us enjoy the coolness of this green and purple, bathed in the wonderful light of this early fall.
I got the inspiration for this roll cake from some old books from the ’70s, all combined with a classic recipe my mom always uses. It is tried and tested and extremely flavorful, and, although I wouldn’t exactly call it healthy, it is a fragrant, dairy-free, veganizable kind of cake. It is that kind of cake you’d want to bake on a free afternoon with your family or kids and have for breakfast on a weekend, maybe with some yogurt, or with some ice-cream if you are serving it for dessert. It is the kind of cake my mom would give us as kids – the kind of cake that never, ever had us crave packaged snacks or sweets.
Once you got the dough, you can always change the filling according to season and taste. You could do cinnamon and apples cooked in rhum, pear and chocolate, berries…anything that strikes your fancy! I love to have lots of soft fruit as stuffing, because I love how moist the cake gets from the fruit juices.
For this specific cake, make sure you have no seeds from the grapes, and, according to how ripe/sweet the cake is, consider wether it is better to use it raw or cooked. It is better to cook fruit with more consistency, but figs are wonderful tossed in raw. In any case, I added instructions for both options.
Sidenote about the flour – Every time I use flour, I can’t help thanking the awesome guys at Molini Pivetti who sent me a bunch of amazing flour without even asking for advertising. I asked them where I could find their products, and they sent some stuff over. Their flours are fresh and produced in my region of Emilia Romagna. When you buy flour, make sure it is good quality – better if produced in small batches from organic sources, and contains no bleaching agents. When I was in the US, I was surprised at how white the flour was! I know that finding small batch flour is not easy for everyone, so, well…do what you can!
- 500g (about 2 cups) Red grapes (preferably small grapes. Concord, Muscadine, or seedless)
- 500g (about 9-10) figs
- A couple tablespoons fig jam
- If using raw fruit: a tbsp flour
- If cooking the fruit: 1 tbsp sugar and the juice from a lemon
- 400g (3 cups + 1 tbsp) Flour (preferably a mix of good quality flour and spelt flour)
- 3 eggs*
- 150g (3/4 cup) Muscovado sugar, plus extra for topping
- 15g (3 tsp) baking powder
- 70ml (a scant ⅓ cup) Vegetable oil
- 70-100ml (a generous ⅓ cup) White wine
- Zest from one lemon
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- * Those of you who are accustomed to vegan baking might be familiar with the 'flax egg' trick. Mixing up ground flax with water will produce a thick gel, that can be used in place of eggs as a binding agent. Eggs here do contribute to the flavor though, so if you decide to try this with flax eggs, add a little extra flavoring - a little more sugar, vanilla or even a dash of cinnamon. Here are instructions for eggs to flax to water ratios. I have not tried this yet, but I will soon! If you have any extra info about flax eggs, I'd love you to share!
- Prepare the fruit: IF USING RAW FRUIT: If the fruit you are using is sweet and ripe, I suggest you use it raw. Peel the figs, and, if the grapes have seeds, it might be worth de-seeding them. Toss it with a tablespoon of flour before adding it to the dough (see below).
- IF COOKING THE FRUIT: If the fruit you're using is not naturally very sweet, you might want to cook it to concentrate the flavor and avoid bland bits in your cake. Add the peeled figs and de-seeded grapes to a pan, add the sugar and lemon, and cook on medium until the fruit turn into a compote, about 20-30 minutes. The grapes will release a lot of water at first, then it will reduce down to a jam-like consistency. Stir the fruit every now and then to avoid it sticking to the pan, and stir it quite often once it starts to thicken. Leave it to cool, as it will thicken more as it cools down.
- Make the cake: In a processor, or in a bowl, mix all the ingredients for the dough (yes, it’s that easy). Mix until the dough comes together. Only add 70ml of the wine at first, and see how the dough behaves. It should be quite sticky, but manageable. It will look a little looser than it should, but the softer it is, the better it will turn out once it's baked.
- Preheat the oven to 180 Cº / 355 Fº.
- Heavily flour your workplace, and scrape the dough onto it. Dust it with more flour, and roll it out into a rectangle(ish). Spread the fig jam and the flour-coated fruit evenly, leaving a 1 inch space on one of the borders. Roll the dough as delicately as possible, and seal the edge. For arranging it into the pan, it might help to cut the roll in half, and re-join the edges once you transferred it. Sprinkle the top with some extra dark sugar, and bake for about 40 minutes, until the cake has puffed up and is golden brown on top. Let cool completely (this is very important!) before unmolding.
What are you baking / making / wishing for this fall?