Friday Treats: The Venetian Pomegranate Cake!

Perhaps you have time to bake a Venetian cake this weekend? Adapted to the season, and alleviating any symptoms of cold weather we might be suffering right now. We have a favorite family recipe, based on a historical one, popular in the 13th century Venice. Yes, that’s the time when Marco Polo’s family was living here ..

This recipe, like all historical ones, has got to do with colors, which make for surprising effects: food that is uplifting, fights migraines, and may even prevent other disorders of autumn, like colds and a weak immune system. 

Our recipe is for a simple cake, made with ingredients you can find RIGHT NOW in the Venetian countryside, il Veneziano and the area surrounding the Lagoon, called L’Estuario (Estuary). If you take a closer look, you can see pomegranates everywhere in Venice now in fall. Many Venetian gardens have at least one pomegranate tree, and they also grow wild in the Lagoon. You can make them out when you walk along the wild gardens on the path leading from the vaporetto stop (imbarcadero) to the central area of Torcello, towards the churches and Locanda Cipriani.

The strengths of Venetian historical recipes are part of a forgotten, comprehensive concept, which includes the right amount of seasonal colors into food. For example, the red color in the recipe reflects the season, while other ingredients make up for colors this season is missing in nature. And yes, this is closely related to Ayurvedic cooking, of which the merchants of Venice were VERY WELL aware. Venetian spice masters initially took up recipes from Asia and the Levant, but soon adapted them to European taste, and what ingredients were available in Europe. And they created spice mixtures, not only for flavor, but to obtain the desired health effects.

Historical recipes always include local fruit as well. In this case, it’s the pomegranates growing everywhere in the Lagoon. Drinking one glass of pomegranate juice, freshly prepared, is the best way to prevent autumn colds, or recover from them more quickly, according to ancient manuscripts found in Venetian monasteries (San Francesco della Vigna, or San Zanipolo, a monastery that was closed, just like San Zaccaria).

In the past, Venetians just loved the pomegranate taste: they used to drink mulled wine flavored with warm pomegranate syrup, or apple and pear juice, during Christmas. Now, that’s a recipe we’ll taste later, in December 🙂

In the past, nourishing cakes like this one were offered during the Festa della Salute, accompanied by dosa calda – a warming drink made from spices and figs, offered to the pilgrims on Campo della Salute, exactly in the place where in our times you can buy the candles. Dosa Calda was a staple drink, a thick warm broth, or sweet drink, followed by the castradina dish (smoked mutton with cabbage and spices, which you can still eat in Venice in the week before and after la Festa della Salute). And there used to be pomegranate cakes as well, whose recipe you can find below.

Ingredients that go into this recipe are syrups and juices made from fruit ripe in autumn, nut flours, and warming spice mixtures. Those spices make all the difference, by the way. Honey would be used invariably, as Venetians were experts in making honey, preferably from Lagoon and citrus blossoms. And there might just be a hint of home-made liquors to further enrich these uplifting, nourishing soul food recipes.

This is the tool box you need to cook Venetian soul food and bake spice cakes, like Venetian bakeries and families have done for centuries.

Each family has a favorite autumn cake, a festive treat eaten in November to celebrate harvest time and the feasts: All Saints Day, San Martin, and Festa della Salute. Our cake comes fIavored with grappa, a “naked cake” covered with nothing but a red-golden frosting made from grappa, cinnamon, apple and / or pomegranate juice.

Torta mandorle e grappa con glassa al melograno: Almond-grappa cake with pomegranate icing

Mood stabilizing, a natural and sweet remedy against autumn disorders, while at the same time, enhancing your immune system. We have included a gluten-free variant in the Recipe notes below.

  • 90 gr almond flour
  • 90 gr wheat flour (GLUTEN FREE: Farina di ceci – chick pea flour)
  • 50 gr brown cane sugar
  • 7 tablespoons bergamot honey (or any citrus honey)
  • 50 gr butter
  • 3 teaspoons spice mixture (caccia-caigo): cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, dried rose petals
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons grappa
  • 50 ml milk (or sweet cream in case you have cold)
  1. Mix the flours with two teaspoons baking powder. In a second bowl, create a smooth paste consisting of 50 gr sugar, 50 gr butter, honey, spice mixture, and one egg. Add your flour mix to this paste, and carefully stir in 50 ml milk and the grappa. 
  2. Pour the cake mixture into a round cake form and bake for approx. 25 minutes (160 degrees Celsius,) or until golden brown – you can see the right color in the image).
  3. Wait for approx. ten minutes before you decorate your cake with a frosting made from 4 tablespoons citrus honey, 5 tablespoons sugar, and the pomegranate juice.

  • Substitute wheat flour with chick pea flour. You could also use almond flour ONLY, which would be a very luxurious variant of the cake. In that case, you might need some 2-3 tablespoons additional honey.
  • Substitute the egg with 3 tablespoons honey.
  • Substitute butter with margarine.
  • Substitute milk with almond milk.
  • You could also substitute the grappa with almond milk and/or organic apple juice.
  • The gluten-free variant requires a careful mix of spices: Create a mixture of 1 heaped tablespoon cinnamon, 1 flat tablespoon cardamom, 1 teaspoon white or black (ground) pepper. You could also add 1-2 dried rose petals, or a few drops of rose essence to enhance the flavor of the spices. 

PS: Most historical Venetian recipes were gluten free in the first place, or can be easily adapted. So they would be very USEFUL in our times.

Want to know more about Venetian heritage, and historical recipes? This week, until 20 November 2018, we are offering a give-away on the occasion of the upcoming Festa della Salute: You can win one access to our new online course: four modules plus little gifts, dedicated to rediscovering Venetian heritage, and ideas on how to benefit from it today. Click here to enter the give-away, and here to read more about La Festa della Salute!

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