Few Ancient Greek characters capture my imagination quite so much as Persephone, a goddess of springtime and fertility and growth. As the tales go, the god of the underworld, Hades, was stuck by Persephone’s beauty as she was out gathering flowers one day and picked her up on his chariot to carry her down into his world of darkness. Her mother Demeter was so distraught at her daughter’s disappearance that she stopped the land from growing in her daughter’s absence. Eventually, the gods released Persephone back into the upper world, but not before clever Hades had placed a flavorful kernel of a pomegranate in her mouth, knowing its divine taste would compel her to return to him. So she does, for about one third of the year, leaving the world above her in winter until her return in the spring.
This tale has been interpreted in many different ways over the years. Perhaps Persephone was kidnapped and held in the underworld against her will, following only the instructions of the gods that held her fate. Perhaps she chose the unknown of the underworld over the world she’d come to know above, leaving her innocence behind for a grand adventure. But I like to believe that Hades and Persephone had a complex but beautiful relationship—she knowing not to lose herself in it, and he allowing her the freedom not to. It’s a bit like the long-distance relationships of today, balancing career and purpose with love and time together. Every individual relationship is different; perhaps these two ancient lovers just found the balance that worked best for them. Lucky for us that they did, and we can rely on Persephone’s annual return to the upper world to signal the start of our springtime!
But before she goes, I bet she and Hades have one last sumptuous feast in their underworld home, filled with the fruit that tempted her to stay. Pomegranate-glazed roasts, bright salads with the glistening seeds on top, and, of course, some elegant and delicious dessert to give her a taste of what she’ll be missing. There’s only one way to finish a lavish goodbye feast on such a sweet note, and that is with this gorgeous glisteningly red mirror-glaze cake. It’s filled with a rich chocolate pomegranate cake and a light and floral pomegranate rose mousse with a bit of tartness to counteract its floral and rich flavors. Total contrasts, married perfectly … just like the relationship of a couple of Greek gods we know.
Did you know that we perceive red foods as tasting sweeter? According to studies by the researcher Charles Spence, foods served on red plates taste sweeter than the same things served on, say, green plates. Or white ones. It’s likely an evolutionary trait leftover from the days that our hunter-gatherer ancestors looked for the sweetest berries, at that perfect scarlet red that indicates ripeness, as opposed to the smaller, harder, and sour unripe berries next to them. Exchanging red cards during the month of love really does show someone you are “sweet” on them. And with that note, this is what I think Hades would write on his goodbye valentine to Persephone:
I miss you when you leave, my dear
I eat the fruit that kept you here
And dream of your scarlet lips
This room still carries your scent of rose
The perfume of flowers soaking into my clothes
Though spring is a foreign thing, to me
In this damp I wait eagerly
For you to return home to me
With stories of the light
Burdock Pomegranate Cake:
This rich chocolate cake was inspired by two of my friend Danielle’s delightful recipes: Fudgy Burdock & Rose Cake, and Pomegranate and Red Rose cake (Printed in Enchanted Living Magazine, Fall 2019.) I knew I wanted to include some kind of root in this cake recipe as homage to the underground earthiness of the Underworld. Burdock is far from evil, however – in fact, it is often used in both Western and Chinese herbal medicine as a blood purifier and detoxifying herb. It is a root of balance: between bitter and sweet, it’s known for balancing hormones, supporting the liver and easing the heart. Safety Note: Make sure you use rose petals that were grown organically or foraged from clean environments. Florists’ roses are often sprayed with a lot of herbicides and fungicides, making them unsafe for consumption.
I recommend planning ahead, since this cake will come together much easier if you work on certain stages at a time.
Day 1: infuse the creams for the cake and the mousse
Day 2: bake the cake and make the mousse and assemble. Refrigerate overnight
Day 3: Glaze and decorate the cake
Heart Potion infused cream (will be used in both the cake and the mousse. Make ahead – you’ll need to wait overnight to use it.)
3 c. heavy whipping cream
¾ c. dried rose petals
⅓ c. dried hawthorn berries
Place the hawthorn berries and rose petals into a small saucepan with the cream. Gently warm until it starts steaming. Do not boil! Remove from heat and cover until it cools down to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight. The next day, strain the mixture, keeping the cream.
Below The Earth Cake:
⅔ c. infused cream (above)
⅓ c. pomegranate juice
1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. Vanilla extract
½ c. unsalted butter at room temperature
1 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. Dried and powdered burdock root
½ c. cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp. Baking soda
¼ tsp. Salt
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and line one high-walled 9” cake pan.
In a pourable measuring cup, mix together the pomegranate juice, vinegar, and vanilla extract. Set aside.
In a large bowl, sift the flour, burdock, cocoa, baking soda and salt to remove any lumps.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl using a hand-held mixture), beat the butter and the sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition.
Add half of the flour mixture and beat until incorporated on low speed. Add the pomegranate juice mixture and beat in, then add the infused cream and continue to beat on low until smooth. Add the remaining flour and beat on low until the mixture is smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Allow cakes to cool in pan, then invert onto a cooling rack. Once the cake has completely cooled, wrap it up well and put in the fridge for a couple of hours. (This allows the flavors to blend more and allows the cake to firm up a bit, making assembly easier.)
Wild Rose and Pomegranate Mousse:
The light and floral counterpart to the rich burdock cake, this mousse is easy to make and creates a perfectly smooth surface to show off the mirror glaze. I have a domed cake mold that’s perfect for projects like this one, but you could also use a deep cake mold or even a domed bowl for your own. Roses can be incorporated in many ways, like as listed here in rose water and rose sugar and, of course, the infused cream.
1 c. pomegranate juice
1 ½ Tbs. rose water
1 ½ Tbs. water
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
2 c. infused cream (above)
1/2 c. sugar (rose-infused is best!)
¼ c. powdered sugar
Lightly grease a 9” round domed cake pan or springform pan. Pour the rose water and water into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over top. Let sit until gelatin softens, about 3 minutes.
In a small saucepan, combine pomegranate juice and sugar over medium heat. Cook until bubbles form at the edge. Add gelatin mixture and cook just until the gelatin dissolves, stirring constantly (This should take about 1 minute.) Transfer the juice mixture to a small bowl and let cool to room temperature, which will take about 20 minutes.
In a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat the heavy cream on medium-high until soft peaks form. Add the powdered sugar and continue to beat until firm peaks form.
Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the pomegranate mixture until combined. Spoon some of the mixture into the greased cake pan, leaving room at the top for the cake. Place in fridge to set up slightly while you cut the edges off the cooled cake so that it will fit in the mold, leaving a bit of room around the edge.
Remove the partially set mousse mold from the fridge and carefully place in the cake. Fill around the edges and tap lightly to make sure there are no air gaps. Refridgerate until set, about 2 hours (or overnight.) Leave in the fridge as you make the glaze below.
Pomegranate Mirror Glaze:
I was so pleased to discover that it’s possible to make a super reflective and richly colored mirror glaze without any artificial food colorings! Here, we’ll rely on pomegranate juice and natural fruit and vegetable powders to add both color and flavor to this finishing touch. Glaze recipes tend to rely on precision, which is why I have given both volume and weight measurements for some of the ingredients. If you have a good kitchen scale, I’d definitely recommend weighing the ones with weights listed. I based this recipe on this helpful tutorial. This glaze recipe also makes more than you’ll need for this cake, but I find the extra amount is worth it to get lovely patterns and give you some peace of mind!
3 Tbs. (30 g) unflavored gelatin
¾ c. pomegranate juice
⅔ c. sweetened condensed milk (210 g)
1 ¼ c. white granulated sugar
1 c. light corn syrup
1 ¾ c. (300g) white chocolate, chopped
¾ c. pomegranate juice
1 Tbs. pink pitaya powder
1 Tbs. beetroot powder
1 tsp. edible gold luster
Optional: fresh fruit, petals, or pomegranates to decorate.
Combine the unflavored gelatin and the first pomegranate juice in a small bowl. Set aside to let the gelatin to bloom (absorb the moisture)
Place the sweetened condensed milk and chopped white chocolate in the bowl of a stand mixer.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the remaining pomegranate juice with the corn syrup and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 3 minutes, then stir in the gelatin and cook until it is completely dissolved.
Pour the hot mixture over the white chocolate mixture. Let sit for 5 minutes, then stir on low (or hand mix) until it’s smooth.
Set out 4 bowls. In one, put the beetroot powder. Add the pitaya powder to another, then the gold luster to the third. Working with one at a time, add about 1 Tbs. of the hot glaze mixture and mix until the powder is evenly absorbed and there are no lumps. Add more glaze, a little at a time, until the glaze is lump-free and the bowl is about half-full. Repeat with the other two bowls. Pour the rest of the glaze into the remaining bowl and top up the colored bowls with any extra glaze, mixing it in gently to avoid air bubbles.
Cover the bowls with plastic wrap to keep the glazes from forming a skin. Let cool to 85F at room temperature. Glaze should be thick.
Meanwhile, remove the mousse from the mold. Dip the outside of the pan into hot water for a few seconds, then quickly and carefully flip onto a cardboard circle the diameter of the bottom of the mold. Immediately place back in the fridge.
Layer the different colors of glaze into a pour-able container large enough for all of it. Place your cake on a cooling rack over a cookie tray and pour the glaze over the top, making sure to cover it all. Let drip for a few minutes, then quickly transport the cake back to the fridge to set up. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Garnish or decorate as desired with fresh pomegranates, rose petals, or fresh fruit.