Wine, Grape & Fig Ciambellone (Roll Cake)

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.

Grapes and Fig Ciambellone (Roll cake) - Welcoming fall - Figs


Grapes and Fig Ciambellone (Roll cake) - Welcoming fall | Hortus Natural Cooking

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.

Grapes and Fig Ciambellone (Roll cake) - Welcoming fall - Figs


Grapes and Fig Ciambellone (Roll cake) - Welcoming fall | Hortus Natural Cooking

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!

Grapes and Fig Ciambellone (Roll cake) - Welcoming fall | Hortus Natural Cooking


Wine, Grape & Fig Ciambellone (Roll Cake)
Fits a 10 inch ring cake pan
Recipe type: Dessert, cake
Cuisine: Italian
  • 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!
  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Preheat the oven to 180 Cº / 355 Fº.
  5. 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?

Grapes and Fig Ciambellone (Roll cake) - Welcoming fall | Hortus Natural Cooking


Grapes and Fig Ciambellone (Roll cake) - Welcoming fall | Hortus Natural CookingGrapes and Fig Ciambellone (Roll cake) - Welcoming fall | Hortus Natural Cooking

  1. gorgeous valentina! i can imagine myself walking along the streets of new york and the fields of italy :)
    you, lady, have way with words!

  2. Valentina the recipe looks wonderful! The sense of smell is so acute!! I can still remember being a small child with my dad in his truck in Italy. I can smell autumn and I can hear the locust or cicadas. It was this season — that’s all I remember but I treasure fall for remembering being with my papa, in his truck.

  3. I’m sorry to be writing again, but out of curiosity, what do you call your father? I’ve heard several terms but i called my dad, papa accent on the second syllable.

    • Hi Marisa! Thanks for sharin gyour memories of childhood in Italy! :)
      Oh well, there are two distinct ways to call dad…one being ‘papà’ and the other being ‘babbo’. Some regions call dad papà and some others call dad babbo. Actually, for those who use ‘babbo’, ‘papà’ sounds really lame! ahah! I think only Tuscany, Marche and Emilia Romagna use babbo though (I use babbo).

  4. I am currently picturing myself walking between rows of grapes in a gorgeous Italian vineyard. I love the combo of wine + grape + fig in this cake. And your photos are stunning!!

  5. Valentina, I enjoyed so much reading this post, for a moment I closed my eyes and imagined myself being there with all those wonderful Autumn smells and colors, thank you for that! The photos, styling, the light….everything is so beautiful and well. just perfect! This kind of cake reminds of my mum too, this is exactly something what she would bake so I think I’ll just have to translate this recipe in Croatian and send it to her so she can try it out. :-) My parents have a small garden with grapes, fig tree, pomegranate, lemons, mandarin and orange tree… The garden is small but a lot of cakes came out of my mum’s kitchen because of all that beautiful fruit. :-)

    • Oooo wonderful! Let me know if your mom ever tries it out! Having all those fruit trees in the garden is a real blessing. We do not have any citrus, I don’t think the climate is good for that here…

  6. Oooh, Valentina. This cake looks so, so divine — that moist crumb, and all that gorgeous fruit! It’s a perfect farewell to summer. And such lovely words about the New York fall, too. Hope you’ll be here soon to enjoy it in person! :):)

    • I can’t wait! I miss NY so much – it’s the only place I love even in the dead of winter (because the word ‘dead’ never really applies to NY anyway) ;_;

  7. Love the photos! And such a beautiful text about autumn :)
    I usually use “chia egg” when veganizing cake in order to keep its nutritional value. Chia seeds are high in protein and omega 6 & 3! :)
    Have a wonderful day!

    • Yes! I love chia seeds! And I also love the fact that they have no smell. Nutrition aside, the most viscous are probably psyllium seeds, but man do they smell icky…

  8. I love how you painted fall in Italy in this post, Valentina! I’m also totally into this cake. Grapes are mostly eaten as they are; they’re way too seldom used in baking or in condiments (at least in Scandinavia and Germany). This recipe is a great reminder of grapes being so much more!

    • Thank you Sini! <3 You know, from what I've noticed, using grapes for cooking is a tradition that is kinda fading. Concord grapes are only in season for a month-ish, grapes tend to be bland later in the year - gotta take full advantage of it! :)

  9. Grape season might just be one of my favorites. Tables grapes including my favorite concord grapes have arrived at the NYC markets. I am featuring a concord grape pie today on my site, but this cake looks like a great option for brunch:)

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