A great palette of seedless grapes is appearing at my local farmer’s markets and perhaps at yours as well. Look for the deep black ones, including fragrant Thomcords: a new variant on the Concord which are seedless. There are varieties tinged with pink, and of course the ubiquitous seedless green, both tiny and colossal. Look for the highly perfumed Muscat varieties (most likely, these will not be seedless). Truly seasonal and varied, freshly-picked grapes in all of their range of flavors suggest to me an easy and fun way to create a simple dessert where fruit and tea play equal roles. The key here is roasting the fruit first, which concentrates its flavor and adds a slightly caramelized dimension which pairs well with a malty Assam. Here’s how to proceed.
Wash and dry the fruit, allowing 6 ounces of clusters per person. Using kitchen shears or a small sharp knife, remove the grapes from the main stem in small clusters. Spray a piece of baking parchment lightly with pan spray, or–if you have one–place a small silicone baking mat on a sheet pan. Arrange the grape clusters on the pan, sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar, and bake in a preheated 350-degree F. oven for about 20-25 minutes (given the variability of the grapes, it’s difficult to give a precise baking time). Depending on their size and variety, after that length of baking time the grapes should have shriveled somewhat, and the sugar will have caramelized. If not shriveled enough, return them to the oven for a bit longer, checking on them every few minutes until done. Once you have taken the pan out of the oven, immediately remove the grape clusters onto a plate and set aside while you make the Assam cream dipping sauce: the all-important accompaniment to the grapes. It’s nice to serve the grapes and the sauce while warm.
Counting on 4 ounces of heavy cream per serving (the liquid will be cooked and reduced, yielding less than you began with), bring the cream and 1 teaspoon for each 4 ounces of cream of whole leaf good quality Assam (or other black tea of your choice) to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Pour the liquid through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean bowl (discarding the tea leaves) and then add just enough granulated sugar or fragrant honey to sweeten slightly. Return to a clean saucepan and again cook carefully to reduce a bit. Serve immediately with the grapes. If you wish to make this in advance, refrigerate and then reheat over very low heat (be careful not to burn the sauce) just before serving, adding a small amount of additional cream before cooking again to make the mixture flow. The texture of the sauce should be just thick enough to coat the grapes.
Divide the sauce equally into small bowls and enjoy by swirling the grapes into the sauce or remove the grapes from their stems and then spoon a bit of the sauce onto each plate and dip the grapes into the sauce as desired. Serve this with a thin buttery short dough cookie and a cup of tea.