The serpent or snake is a symbol of May because of its ancient association with fertility. This association dates back to the earliest Pagan religions, and though later religions cropped up casting the serpent in a deceitful role, the Earth religions still honor the snake as a blessed creature this time of year. Its way of slithering along the body of the Earth made it an obvious phallic symbol, and May Day is full of such symbols (the maypole being the most well-known one).
The holiday of Beltane comes on the first of May and encourages those who celebrate life to greet spring’s bounty with festivities, and that of course always involves food. This snake-shaped cake, incorporating appropriate seasonal ingredients, is a wonderful addition to a party table.
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
- The zest of one orange
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 cup butter
- 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons honey, boiling
- 1/2 cup strong espresso coffee
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup amaretto or rum
- /3 cup wild cherry or raspberry jam
- Garnish: 4 coffee beans and some candied orange peel, in slices
Preheat the oven to 400º F. Mix the sugar, spices, zest, soda, and salt into the flour in a bowl. Cut in the butter until little pebbles form. Pour in the honey, coffee, and liqueur, and mix in the egg. Mix the batter until everything is evenly distributed and you have a nice soft dough. Let it cool.
Turn it out onto a floured surface and divide in half. Roll one half into an 18-inch rope. Make a deep trough down the center and fill it with jam. Seal it by bringing the edges up over the jam and pressing the seam together. Then flip it seam-side-down onto a parchment-paper-covered baking sheet. Arrange the snake in a circle, but don’t press the ends together. Make one end tapered like the end of a snake’s tail, and make the other end triangular like a snake’s head.
Press in coffee beans for eyes and orange rind for scales if desired. Repeat this process with the other half of the dough and bake them for 30 minutes.
Yield: 2 snake cakes.
Source: Beltane, by Grimassi