chocolate & poppyseed cake for the new moon

Updated: Feb 5

As a service to my readers, food & feast posts will always feature the recipe first, with history, folklore, and cooking tips toward the bottom of the page. For background on this recipe and helpful hints for navigating technique, scroll down! Otherwise, dive right in with the recipe below.

 

photo by Frances F. Denny


chocolate & poppyseed cake

for the new moon


Serves 8-10 guests

Contains gluten, dairy

Prep time : 15 minutes

Cook time : 30 minutes


ingredients

2½ cups poppyseeds

¾ cup sweetened condensed milk

¾ cup butter, cold

¼ cup semolina flour

Zest of 1 lemon

6 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 egg

1½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup Dutch process cocoa powder

½ teaspoon salt

icing sugar, for dusting (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour a 10in springform pan or a 9 x13in baking dish.


In a medium saucepan, combine your poppyseeds and 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, then strain the poppyseeds with a fine mesh sieve. Place the poppyseeds in a blender, add the condensed milk and 3 tablespoons of your butter, and blend until the seeds are partially ground. Transfer the seed mixture to a medium bowl and stir in your semolina flour and lemon zest. Set aside.


In another bowl, cream together your sugar and the remaining butter. Beat in the egg. In a separate bowl, mix together your flour, cocoa powder and salt. Stir this into the butter mixture and combine into a smooth ball.

Press your chocolate mixture into the bottom and sides of the pan, and spoon the poppyseeds over top, flattening with the back of a spoon. Bake for 25–35 minutes, or until the top is dry and set. Allow to cool fully in the tin before removing and dusting with icing sugar if desired.

 

The new moon is the point on the lunar cycle that represents the moon’s more chthonic, obscured aspects. It is sometimes called “the dark moon”, and is the time when the moon “disappears”, as she is fully without her usual luminary graces. It is also a time sacred to fearsome, chthonic lunar deities, like Hekate of the Greeks or Khonsu of the Egyptians – both depicted in bestial and cannibalistic forms, and associated with the dark moon phase in particular. As this phase of the moon is traditionally accompanied by a kind of primeval terror, it is often celebrated in introspective ways- through acts of private devotion, offering rituals, and sacrifice. While the full moon is a period of heightened senses and external activity, the new moon instead turns inward and focuses on meditation, divination and devotional work.


This recipe for the new moon features foods that represent this darker, more earth-bound aspect of the lunar cycle. Dark cocoa and narcotic poppy seeds are all sacred to the moon and correspond to chthonic themes of death and rebirth. In The Witch's Feast, we coordinate feasts for the new and full moons separately, and this is because they remain polar opposites within the lunar cycle, bearing different sets of correspondences and rulerships. The ingredients of the full moon tend toward those which are aromatic, lightly colored, refreshing to the senses, and stimulating - sage flowers, cream, sea vegetables, crustaceans, fish, potato, banana, and so on. When it comes to the new moon, we find the darker side of lunar correspondence, with flavors and ingredients that feature a darker palette, along with nuttier and more complex flavors - poppyseed, mushroom, miso, pickles, garlic and particularly black garlic, sake, ferments, etc.


With that said, this cake is probably unlike anything you've seen or tasted before. Calling for two and a half cups of poppyseeds, boiled until softened and sweetened with condensed milk, the filling is similar to what you might find in Slavic poppyseed rolls (in Croatia where my family is from, these are called makovnjača [ma-kov-nya-cha]). The resulting cake is nutty, hearty, and slightly sweet, with a short and crumbly chocolate crust that makes this recipe more rich than expected. Personally, I prefer this bake cut into thin slices, served with morning tea or after a rich dinner alongside good red wine. If you find this recipe lacking needing a little something, I recommend topping with just a dollop of barely-sweetened whipped cream, as lunar flavors tend to err on the subtle, rich, and simple side.


Serve this recipe with your coven on the eve of the new moon, as a prelude to rites of divination, as an offering to your own dark divinities, or as you strategize for all of your works in the upcoming lunar cycle.

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