May Serpent Cake

I found the recipe for this year's Beltane celebration on a blog called Confessions of a Kitchen Witch  which I have been following for quite some time.

The author of this blog explained the symbolism behind this cake (although I think it's more of an aromatic sweet bread) in her post so I would like to repeat her words and add a few of my own. The snake, or serpent, is a symbol of Beltane because it is a fertility motif and Beltane essentially celebrated springtime, the fertility of nature and, in the mythological sense, also the unification of the Goddess and the God (i.e. their marriage but also sexual unification). The snake is also a symbol of renewal because of its ability to shed its skin. As most snakes are connected to the earth (since this is their usual habitat), it is very fitting that an earth-based religions such as Paganism celebrates them. In addition to all of this, it is also a phallic symbol and I think it's pretty clear why. I have already explained that Beltane is the time when all forms of fertility are celebrated so you can see why this aspect of the serpent is also noteworthy.

The symbolism of the snake can also be seen in some traditions of this festival. In regard to this, I have to mention the Maypole dance. It begins with every participant holding one end of a ribbon which is tied to the top of the Maypole. During the dance, these ribbons get intertwined around themselves and also around the Maypole and remind everyone of the famous symbol of the entwined snakes (the symbol of medicine and healing in general). Also, as a fertility symbol, these two snakes can also represent the unification of the male and female polarity and thus the creation of new life.

Consequently, this cake takes on the whole symbolism of the serpent if is shaped like one. Feel free to play around with the shaping and let your imagination go wild. :D I managed to make two "loaves" (or rather snakes) out of the recommended amount of ingredients. I formed one snake into a spiral, and the other in a sort of curvy position as if it was just crawling on the ground. An interesting detail which especially liked was the wild cherry marmalade filling because the snake slightly broke in a few places during the baking process and a bit of the marmalade leaked out. It really looked like the snake (i.e. the cake) was bleeding and that it was, in some way at least, sacrificed to the gods. This only adds to the whole festivity because it is normal it is normal for some symbolic sacrifice to be given fro each holiday (not a blood sacrifice, of course, but a symbolic one such as burying food, planting seeds, spilling a bit of drink on the ground, replanting plants, burying crystals and other valuable objects and so on). For this Beltane, my snake cake was my gift to the gods. :) I just hope they accept it...

You Will Need:

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (I just wrapped them in plastic wrap and beat them with a meat cleaver)
  • 11/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • orange zest (from 1 orange)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • a pinch of salt
  • 41/2 cups flour (have some more ready to flour your working surface and the bread/cake itself while molding it)
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 3/4 cup honey (boiling)
  • 1/2 cup Turkish/strong espresso coffee
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup amaretto (or rum)
  • wild cherry jam/marmalade (you can use raspberry jam/marmalade as a substitute though I think that any forest fruit will do)

How to Prepare:

  1. Preheat the oven to 175-180°C.
  2. Mix together sugar, cloves, orange zest, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and flour in one bowl.
  3. Add softened butter, coffee, melted butter and amaretto (or rum if you don't have any amaretto at home) to the dry ingredients mix.
  4. Knead the dough with your hands until it becomes compact and add two more tablespoons of flour if necessary (keep in mind that the dough should still me a bit sticky at the end of this step).
  5. Separate the dough into two parts.
  6. On a floured working surface, roll out one half of the dough into a long rope (the length is up to you, but I recommend you don't make it any thinner than 4cm).
  7. Make a vertical trough down the center of the rope using a knife (take care not to cut through the dough or cut it in half!).
  8. Make the trough slightly wider with your fingers and put some jam/marmalade in it (do not put too much because the dough won't be able to close then and the marmalade will start leaking out).
  9. Seal the dough by folding the dough over the marmalade.
Suggestion: I left a bit of dough on the side. I did step 9 just because, but I completely sealed of the trough by using this leftover dough as "band aids".  So I would basically pinch off some dough, flatten it with my hands and stick it over the trough. I just kept doing this until the whole cut was covered. 
  1. Put some flour on the top part of the cake and turn it over so the trough faces downwards.
  2. But baking paper on the pan.
  3. Form the dough so it looks like a snake (I'll leave this to you, but at least try to make the head and tail nice) and add coffee beans/almond shavings for eyes. Once you have shaped your snake, put it on your pan.
  4. Repeat steps 6-12 for the second half of the dough.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes at 175°C.
And there you have it! :D I am extremely happy with the result. The jam is just subtle enough and the cake can be scented from miles away. Beautiful aroma! :D I just hope that your cake will turn out just as well as mine did. 

I wish you all a happy and blessed Beltane! :D
Yours truly,
Witch's Cat

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