One of my favorite things about food is that there is always more to learn. I’ve been an avid eater for as long as I can recall, yet still, I discover new foods continually. Last week, my husband’s side of the family was in town, so we headed over to Seattle’s Pike Place Market to play tourist for an afternoon. Naturally, I was drawn to the vast array of produce and was gleeful when I spotted something I’d never seen before. Miniature Champagne grapes were there for the taking as long as one could pony up the cash. $5.99 a pound seemed like a steep price to pay, but my curiosity wouldn’t allow me to pass them by.
What exactly is a Champagne grape? I suppose I should have known the answer to that question before making the purchase, but since experience is sometimes the best teacher, it’s probably just as well. My taste buds have concluded that they are much like the red grapes we are accustomed to seeing in the grocery store, only a bit more delicate and more concentrated in flavor and sweetness. They contain no seeds, and ironically have nothing to do with actual Champagne. (Turns out the name is more of a nickname that came about after they were featured in a pictorial in Sunset Magazine alongside a glass of Champagne; “Black Corinth” is the official name of this type of grape, but they are also sometimes referred to as Zante Currants.) source
Technicalities aside, these beauties were begging to be transformed into something memorable. I considered making a grape-studded cake, then later decided on a rustic dessert called a galette. It has a fancy name, but a galette is essentially a free form tart or pie. I used a classic pie crust recipe, then piled on the sweetened grapes, folded over the edges to hold it all in, and popped it into the oven to bake. I could hardly wait for it to cool and set, but the moment I bit into the buttery pastry and felt the grapes burst in my mouth, releasing their flavorful juices, I knew my patience had paid off.
- 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 4-6 tablespoons ice cold water
- 3 cups champagne grapes, de-stemmed and rinsed
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons corn starch
- 2-3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
- In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour and salt until combined. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients until the pieces are pea-size. Add the ice cold water, one tablespoon at a time, using a fork to gently work the liquid into the butter-flour mixture. Keep adding water just until the dough is moistened and can be formed into a ball (this took about 5 ½ tablespoons of water for me, but it will vary based on the moisture level of your butter as well as environmental factors). Form the dough into a ball, then flatten slightly into a disc (note that if the dough is falling apart at this stage, you haven’t added enough water). Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes or up to several days.
- After the dough has chilled, preheat your oven to 375 degrees and prepare a metal baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Toss the champagne grapes with the sugar and corn starch until evenly coated and set aside.
- Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and place it on a floured surface. Use a floured rolling pin to evenly roll the dough to about a 10 inch by 14 inch oval (this is approximate; you could also do a 13 inch circle if that works for the size of baking sheet you are using). Carefully transfer the pastry to the parchment-lined baking sheet, then arrange the champagne grape mixture in an even layer on top of the pastry, leaving a 1 ½ inch border around the perimeter. Fold the edges of the dough up and over the grapes, tucking and pressing as needed in order for the pastry to lie flat. Brush the top and the sides of the crust with milk and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes until the crust is a light golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack for 2 hours. After the galette has cooled and the filling is set, carefully transfer it from the pan to a cutting board. Slice and serve as is or with a garnish of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Pie crust recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens.
Tips and Tidbits
- Since this is the first time I recall ever coming upon champagne grapes, I imagine they may not be available in all areas. If that’s the case for you or perhaps you are in the mood for something different, you may substitute a number of fruits in their place. Blueberries will yield a similar texture, especially if they are small, but sliced peaches or apricots would be scrumptious as well. Be sure to taste the raw fruit to determine its tartness and adjust the amount of sugar as needed.
- Achieving a perfect pie crust isn’t always easy, but two things that I’ve found to be very important are the temperature of the butter and how much I work the dough. It’s best if the dough is as cold as possible (hence the cold ingredients and chilling period) because it helps keep the butter separate from the dry ingredients. Think of it as pea-sized nuggets of butter nestled cozily in a matrix of flour rather than a homogeneous flour-butter paste. As the dough bakes, the butter vaporizes and its steam creates pockets of air in the pastry, which is how the crust becomes flaky. Conversely, if the butter is too warm or the dough has been overworked, there is less distinction between the ingredients and the end result is usually denser and tougher.
- I happen to think that a grape pie is a rather fun idea, though it’s certainly not the only way you can enjoy these sweet gems. Try adding them to muffin batter, incorporating them into a salad, or roasting them briefly with olive oil and honey to serve with pork, poultry, or ice cream.