05 February 2011

5 February - Saint Agatha; Lava Cakes

Today is the feast of Saint Agatha of Sicily, Virgin and Martyr, who died circa 251.

By Bergognone (1481–1522) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Source
That she was a young woman martyred for her Faith is all that is really known about her, but her hagiography has been richly embellished.  As related in the medieval Golden Legend and by Reverend Alban Butler in his Lives of the Saints, Agatha was a young, lovely, and nobly-born maiden of Catania in Sicily.  "Quintianus the provost of Sicily, being of a low lineage, was lecherous, avaricious, and a miscreant... to accomplish his evil desires fleshly, and to have riches, did do take S. Agatha to be presented and brought tofore him, and began to behold her with a lecherous sight."  She naturally repulsed him, whereupon, in an effort to break her spirit, he sent her to a brothel run by a prostitute named Aphrodisia, along with her nine daughters.  Cajolings, promises of rich presents, and fair words alternated with threats and abuse, but Agatha stood firm against them, and after a month, Aphrodisia finally had to admit defeat.

Quintianus then thought to get her into his power by means of the emperor's edict against Christians.  He had her bound and brought before him, with orders either to sacrifice to the Roman gods or be tortured.  She chose the latter, but not before arguing with him: "If they [his gods] be good I would that thy life were like unto theirs; and if thou refusest their life, then art thou of one accord with me. Say then that they be evil and so foul, and forsake their living, and be not of such life as thy gods were."

He had her beaten and thrown into prison, and when that did not change her mind, he resorted to the cruelest tortures he could think of.  The one that provides the attributes most often seen in depictions of the saint - the mangling and cutting off of her breasts - was followed a few days later by the executioners rolling her torn and bleeding body over a bed of pottery shards and live coals.  At that, she rendered up her soul to God, and devout Christians buried her.

She is the patroness of Catania, and of Malta and San Marino, of nurses, nursing mothers, and of those who suffer from diseases of the breast.  She is invoked against fire and natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. (You can find more of her patronages here.)
One of the legends about Saint Agatha is that her veil - carried by the [really nervous] townspeople of Catania - stopped the flow of lava from an eruption of Mount Aetna before it could engulf the town.  In honor of that, you could make a Volcano Cake [and one day I shall do so; I have just the right mold for it], for which you can find many recipes on the web.  Basically, it is a pyramidal cake in which a small dish with dry ice is concealed at the top; a little water on the dry ice, and - hey presto! - the 'mountain' seems to smoke like a volcano.  There was one recipe that used gelatin to make a real 'lava' which poured down the sides.  If you are celebrating the birthday or name-day of an Agatha, that would be the cake to make. [I would make little houses out of marzipan to put at the bottom of the mountain.  And little people with a Mr. Bill 'Oh Nooooo' face, holding Saint Agatha's veil.  And sculpt the frosting so that the lava flows away from the town.  And.... oh sorry.  I get carried away.]

Today I am making LAVA CAKES, which are not as dramatic, but to chocoholics infinitely more enjoyable.  I found this recipe on the inside of a Challenge Butter package, and is here reproduced with permission of Challenge Dairy Products, Inc., on whose website - www.challengedairy.com - you can find more delightful recipes [there is a "Limoncello Cheese Cake" recipe enticing me to try it].

1/2 cup (1-stick) Challenge Butter, melted
7 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Use approximately 1 Tablespoon of the melted butter to brush the inside of six, 4-ounce ramekins or custard cups; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together remaining melted butter, cocoa powder, sugars, flour and salt.  Stir in eggs until smooth.  Stir in vanilla.

Pour batter into the prepared ramekins and set the ramekins in a large baking dish.  Pour hot water into the baking dish to a level about halfway up the side of the ramekins.

Bake for 14-15 minutes until the batter puffs but the center is not set.  The edges will be firm but the center will be runny.
[How can you tell?  Same as you would for a cake - with a toothpick - except that this time, you want to see the toothpick come out "not clean"].

Serve the cakes in the ramekins or run a knife around the edge of each cake and unmold onto plates [the buttering previously helps a lot with this].  Serve the cakes warm or chilled.  Garnish with raspberry sauce, fresh berries, vanilla ice-cream or a dusting of powdered sugar.

I just finished making a batch of these for tea.  Let the snow fall if it must; who cares?  I have CHOCOLATE lava love facing me on my tea table.

Come to me, my Dark Master!