I thought I’d share this recipe from Gather Victoria Patreon for two reasons. May is the sacred month of the Blessed Virgin Mary and in Roman Catholic tradition, roses are the emblematic flower of the Blessed Virgin Mary – and roses will be blooming shortly! On May 31st a “crown cake” is typically baked “affirming the pre-eminence of the Virgin Mother of God in her royal dignity.” This dark chocolate Crown Cake features mountains of meringue in homage to the Virgin of Montserrat. On her feast day in Spain, sponge cakes are made with “mountainous decorations” in honor of “the dark-skinned lady of the mountain”.
Her shrine is located high in the Catalan Pyrenees, the site of eon-old pilgrimages. Legends say the Virgin of Montserrat performed numerous miracles and healings here, hence the millions of pilgrims who still seek to “bask in the wonder-working powers of the black statue of the Virgin Mary.” Apparitions in the sky led shepherds led to her discovery in a cave around 880 A.D but earlier in pre-Christian times, the site was a temple in honor of the Roman goddess Venus. This hymn calls her the Rose of April which is interesting as roses were sacred to Venus – as well as many ancient goddesses.
The Virgin of Montserrat is only one of the hundreds of mysterious paintings, icons, and statues whose shrines are amongst the world’s most revered Marian sites – and controversial. While she once bore the inscription ”Nigra Sum Sed Formosa” ( I am Black, but Beautiful) the Church’s official position is that her skin color is the result of accumulated centuries of candle soot. However scholars like Dr. Malgorzata Oleszkiewicz-Peralba disagree. Her blackness is far from accidental, it is not only the color of the fertile earth (the darker the more fertile) but the sacred color of the dark mother who once gave birth to all material existence.
In her acclaimed book The Black Madonna in Latin America and Europe” Dr. Oleszkiewicz-Peralbait explores the historical precedents of modern-day Black Madonna worship. She points out that countless churches, chapels, monasteries, and cathedrals, are built over sites that once held a temple within a cave or a crypt dedicated to “a host of pre-Christian goddesses associated with the earth and fertility were commonly depicted as crowned, seated on a throne, and holding a divine child on their lap”. ( I could say more about the meaning of her crown of stars but that I am saving for another recipe!)
Whether their skin color is due to centuries of soot matters little to their devotees. Today Black Madonnas are some of the most revered icons in Mariology, And it is interesting to note that“ the darker their skin, the more devotees and the higher the number of miracles associated with the icon”. Today millions make pilgrimages to her holy sites and the numbers are growing.
Dr. Oleszkiewicz-Peralba believes this speaks to an ancient cultural memory of the African origins of humanity whose many historical incarnations include the Roman goddess Ceres, the Anatolian and Roman Cybele, Artemis in ancient Greece, Kali in India, and the Ancient Egyptian Mother Goddess Isis.
The Birth of Eve, Harmonia Rosales
Representing the original mother of Earth’s children, she “ is a memory that people all over the world carry”. Because of this, “blackness has a very strong symbolic meaning connected to love, nurturing, protection, transformation, power, wisdom, fertility, and justice.” Asked whether contemporary Black Madonna devotees are in fact practicing an ancient form of worship within the context of modern-day Catholicism, Dr. Oleszkiewicz-Peralba explains: “I don’t see much difference. They’re worshipping the same divine feminine element that has always been revered.”
According to theologian & author, Matthew Fox, the return of the Black Madonna is a sign of our times. “The archetype and imagery of the Black Madonna, originating from the Great Goddess Isis in Africa, are showing up increasingly today, calling us to wake up! The Black Madonna is also the Queen of Nature, the agent of all fertile transformation in the outside world and in the psyche. She urgently demands a return to balance and wholeness, honoring the earth and representing ecology and environmental concerns.”
As good a reason to eat cake as any!
According to Vazques Montalban, “sponge cakes with decoration that imitates the mountains of Montserrat are the associated food in the gastronomic religious calendar, making the explicit connection between the Virgin of Montserrat and the landscape of her residence.” So this cake’s mountains of meringue evoke both the sacred landscape of the ancient goddesses and the holy crown of the Blessed Mother.
I swapped out the vanilla sponge with deep dark chocolate cake to evoke the nourishing powers of the fertile earth and I’ve perfumed the whole cake with roses, those eternal symbols of love, beauty, and the divine feminine, whether Venus or the Blessed Virgin herself.
The cake is dense, lush, and intensely chocolatey and while it is full of butter and eggs, it’s flourless (using ground almonds) and sugarless. I used sugarless chocolate chips (you can find several brands in grocery stores). I also provide a sugar version of the recipe below. The two layers of meringue (one as topping for the cake and one for the crown) add a lovely crunchy chewiness to every moist chocolatey bite. The meringue does use sugar. I tried a sugarless keto version but the mountains fell flat. I went with Italian Meringue (made with hot syrup) as it holds its shape best.
Black Madonna Crown Cake
- 1 cup of sugarless chocolate chips (or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped)
- 3/4 cup of butter
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 1 egg white
- 1½ tablespoons rose water
- 1 cup granulated sugar (ONLY IF NOT USING SUGARLESS CHOCOLATE)
- 1 cup almond flour/ground almonds
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ½ cup egg whites (about 4 large egg whites)
- 1 tablespoon rose water
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan. Wrap the outside bottom and sides of the pan with aluminum foil to prevent leaking.
Place chocolate and butter in a medium heat-proof bowl and set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, and stir occasionally until melted. Set aside.
In a large bowl, place egg yolks and ½ cup sugar, (if you are using) and beat until pale frothy, and thick. Stir in chocolate mixture, rose water, almond flour, and salt. Beat all egg whites and the remaining ½ cup of sugar (if using) on high speed until thick, shiny, soft peaks form.
Using a spatula, fold in 2/3 of the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture until mixed. Pour batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top. Add a final layer of egg white to the top of the cake batter, and swirl gently into the top, leaving some “puffy” volume for your meringue crown.
In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Heat over low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat to medium-high and allow the syrup to come to a boil.
In the meantime, add the egg whites to a medium-sized, heatproof bowl and beat (or use a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment) until foamy and the whites are almost able to hold soft peaks.
Once the syrup is boiling, clip on a candy (or sugar) thermometer. Cook until the syrup reaches 116°C/240°F, then take the pan off the heat and slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the bowl with the foamy egg whites, mixing continuously to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Once all the syrup has been added, add rose water, and keep mixing until the bottom of the bowl feels cool to the touch and the meringue has cooled down to body temperature.
Spread about half of your egg white mixture over the top of the cake. Bake for 15 minutes.
Remove cake from oven. Allow to cool slightly. Meanwhile, place the remaining meringue into a piping back and pipe your “crown” around the edges of the cake. Return to the oven and bake for 20-25 more minutes. The cake should be set on the sides but just a little jiggly in the middle. Allow to cool on a wire rack, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours until completely set.
Serve with a dusting of icing sugar and rose sugar too.
P.S. Gather Victoria Patrons – there is also a recipe for a Floral Crown Cake adorned and frosted with the edible flowers for the Queen of May, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her predecessors, the ancient goddesses, fairy queens, and village girls who once bore this title – and wore the magical floral crown! (Just search Floral Crown Cake or Crowning Glory)