This simple cake has sweet corn flavor and a layer of jammy, bright Thomcord grapes. Cook the grapes first so their juices thicken enough to sit atop the cake rather than disappearing into the batter. The key to this cake’s texture is soaking the cornmeal in the wet ingredients, which allows it to fully cook during baking so there’s no unpleasant grainy texture. Make this cake ahead of time; kept in an airtight container for up to three days, it will get more and more moist with each day.
In a large skillet, combine the grapes, granulated sugar, and salt. Using a microplane, finely grate the zest from the lemon half into a medium bowl; reserve the bowl. Juice the lemon half, measuring out 2 tablespoons juice. Pour the juice over the grapes and place the pan over medium heat. Once the juices begin simmering, continue cooking, tossing occasionally, until the liquid is bubbling, most of the grapes burst and all are shiny like jewels, about 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the milk and cornstarch to make a slurry. Add the slurry to the grapes and stir to combine. Continue cooking until the juices thicken and the mixture is glossy, 1 minute more. Scrape the grape mixture into the reserved bowl with the lemon zest and stir to combine. Set the grapes aside to cool to room temperature, or, to quicken the process, refrigerate the grapes, stirring once or twice, until they’re cooled to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk, brown sugar, vanilla and eggs until smooth. Stir in the cornmeal and let this mixture sit for 15 minutes to hydrate the cornmeal.
While you wait, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch cake pan with butter, line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, then grease the paper. Scrape the cooled grape mixture into the prepared pan and return to the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and whisk together until just combined. Pour the batter evenly over the grape mixture in the prepared pan and smooth the top (it’s OK if some of the juice rises up the side of the pan in the batter). Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with no crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes.
Remove the cake from the oven and set a timer for 45 minutes (this gives the grapes and their juices time to thicken enough so they won’t run off the cake when you invert it, but also not be too congealed to stick to the pan either). Once the timer goes off, invert the cake onto a serving platter or plate and unmold from the pan. Remove the parchment paper and let the cake cool completely.
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