Michelle Darmody: Pomegranate's perfect for festive cakes

POMEGRANATES are in season at the moment. At this time of year they are more likely to contain wonderfully rich, ruby red seeds.

The seeds are so beautifully jewel-like, they are perfect for decorating all manner of cakes. They add a lushness that is particularly in keeping with the festive season.

To remove the seeds more easily tap the halved fruit vigorously with a wooden spoon allowing the seeds to fall into a waiting bowl. 

Pull the remaining flesh apart and pick out any remaining seeds.

It takes a little work but you do end up with a generous bowl of seeds that will last a few days in the fridge. 

I usually drain most of the juice and keep the seeds airtight. These seeds are more accurately know as arils, technically a pomegranate is a berry that is filled with these arils. 

It is native to Africa and the Middle East but is now cultivated in warm climates throughout the globe. 

Its tart flavour lends it to savoury as well as sweet cooking. It works wonderfully paired with game or slow cooked lamb.

On holidays in southern parts of Europe or the Middle East people will juice the pomegranates in specially designed contraptions and serve it to you cold on the side of the street.

It is a refreshing pick me up and full of vitamins. The seeds contain quite a bit of juice which leeks out when they burst so it is good to add them to a cake soon before serving. 

This is particularly true of the Mascarpone and pomegranate tart. If added too soon they may leek and make the pastry base soggy.

Mascarpone and pomegranate tart

225g flour

a pinch of sea salt

1 tsp of ground nutmeg

140g of cold butter, cut into small cubes

55g of caster sugar

2 tsp of vanilla essence

1 egg, lightly beaten

For the filling

500g of mascarpone

the zest and juice of a lemon

the zest of three limes

130g of icing sugar

the seeds of a large pomegranate

Mix the flour, nutmeg and salt together and rub in the butter until it looks like rough breadcrumbs, do not over mix.

Stir the sugar and vanilla into the eggs, mix it lightly so some of the sugar dissolves. Add the egg mixture to the flour with a fork. Bring together with your hands then rest the pastry for an hour in the fridge or over night.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease a 9 inch tart tin lightly with butter and dust it with flour.

Roll the pastry on a flour dusted surface and cut into a circle large enough to fit the tart tin, leaving a small overhang at the sides. Line the tart case with baking parchment and beans, bake blind for 20 minutes. Remove the parchment and the beans then lightly prick the base with a fork. Continue to bake for another 10 minutes until pale golden in colour. Trim any over hanging pieces with a sharp knife. Set aside to cool completely.

Whisk the mascarpone, lemon juice, zest and icing sugar until completely combined and some air is added. With a spatula spread it over the cooled base.

Rest the pomegranate seeds in a sieve to remove the excess juice. Place the sieve over a large bowl and keep the precious juice for drinking.

Spread a generous layer of the seeds over the mascarpone just before serving.

Pick-me-up pomegranate desert

3 bananas, peeled, chopped and placed in the freezer

200g of pomegranate seeds and the juice

150g of mixed frozen berries

2 tbs of apple juice

1 tbs of honey

1 tsp of vanilla essence

To decorate

a small apple, cored and thinly sliced

1 tbs of poppy seeds

1/2 tbs of pumpkin seeds

1/2 tbs of sesame seeds

a small handful of chopped nuts

a small handful of berries and pomegranate seeds

Place four small bowls into the fridge.

Add the semi frozen banana pieces to a blender, add the pomegranate seeds and any juice, the frozen berries, apple juice, vanilla and honey. Blend until smooth.

Place the mixture into the cold bowls. Lay a few slices of apple on top of each bowl. Sprinkle with the fruit and nuts to decorate and serve straight away. Add some natural yogurt or whipped cream if you wish.

Pomegranate bundt cake

250g of soft butter

340g of caster sugar

4 eggs, lightly beaten

360g of self raising flour

300g of sour cream

1 tsp of vanilla extract

the zest of 2 lemons

the zest of 2 oranges

To ice:

50g of soft butter

2 tbs of water

2 tbs of pomegranate juice

100g of icing sugar

a handful of pecan nuts, toasted

a handful of pomegranate seeds

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees and grease and flour your bundt tin well.

Beat the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy. Slowly add the eggs one at a time until the mixture is combined. If it begins to separate add a spoon of flour to bring it back together.

Slowly add the flour then the rest of the ingredients. Gently combine everything.

Scoop the mixture into your prepared tin. Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for ten minutes then gently turn it onto a wire rack. Allow to cool.

Add the butter to a saucepan and gently melt. Add the water, juice and icing sugar. Stir until the sugar has melted. Drizzle it over the cooled cake. Sprinkle with the pecan nuts and pomegranate seeds while the icing is still wet enough for them to stick.


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