I have been saving this still life for a very special post and a very special day. It is the perfect cake for afternoon tea, and with my house guests leaving tomorrow, I thought it would be an appropriate send off with its delectably moist centre and very delicate crumb. The grapes dotting the cake are beautiful in the afternoon sunlight when the light seems to glow from within their semi-translucent skin.
I used both red grapes (little surprises found throughout) and green and discovered that pooling a bit of honey around the tart little fruits peeking out above the cake makes this afternoon treat even more irresistible.
Edouard Manet, Fruits on a Table (Fruits sur une Table), 1864
oil on canvas, 45 x 73.5 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France
Peaches are a very common subject in Manet's still lifes appearing on at least three different canvases. Historically, the use of fruit in still life painting typically denoted both the Redeemer and the Antichrist in Christian iconology. The peach, similar to the fruit of the Original Sin, is a signifier for the Old Testament, whereas the grape from which wine is derived represents the blood of Christ and the New Testament.
Religion played an important role in many of Manet's major works including Christ Mocked and The Dead Christ but Manet contradicted accepted practices by depicting Christ as distinctly human.
Convoluting typical standards of representation is one of the legacies of Manet's art and so his painting Fruits on a Table is simultaneously rife with the symbolism inherent within the genre, as well as a simple depiction of fruits and dishes on a table — very accessible and completely literal.
"Let them eat cake," was famously quoted (allegedly) by Marie Antoinette, Queen of France. This beloved foodstuff has such a long history that I have to listen to Marie and eat some cake. The word cake is derived from the Old Norse word kaka, and locales with a strong European influence are where this sweet dessert are most often found.
As long ago as Ancient Egypt, bakers were welding their prowess in the kitchen sweetening their cakes with honey. Found at important events from birthdays to weddings with holiday specific varieties, cakes have become synonymous with milestones and happy memories. When it comes to the sweet stuff I think we all want "to have one's cake and eat it too."
Almond Cake with Grapes and Peaches
2 large eggs
2/3 cups sugar
4 TB melted butter
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup ground almonds
3/4 tsp baking power
a pinch of salt
zest of one lemon
1 peach, mashed*
honey to drizzle
Prepare a 9-inch cake pan and preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C).
Beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until they're thick, then add milk, butter, oil, vanilla, and mashed peach, mix well.
Sift together the flour, almonds, baking powder and salt. Add the zest, tossing it to make sure it is well-distributed. Then stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, mixing until well combined.
Transfer the batter to your cake pan and place 12 of the grapes evenly spaced in the cake batter.
Bake on the middle rack for 20 minutes then pull out your cake and top it with the remaining 8 grapes halved. Bake until the top is gold and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan before drizzling with honey.
*You could use canned peaches but be careful, they make the cake much sweeter.
Thank you so much for sharing, Megan. We were really pleased to have this post from Megan, since her blog is one of the most exciting and interesting new food blogs we've seen lately. Every post recreates a famous piece of art in food, and if you haven't seen Warhol's Tomato Soup Cake or Gauguin's Caramelized Apple Omelet yet you should take a look.
Feasting On Art
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(Images: Megan Fizell of Feasting on Art and Tres Jolie Studios)