Cakes of Light and the Buzz about Beeswing

23. For perfume mix meal & honey & thick leavings of red wine: then oil of Abramelin and olive oil, and afterward soften & smooth down with rich fresh blood.
24. The best blood is of the moon, monthly: then the fresh blood of a child, or dropping from the host of heaven: then of enemies; then of the priest or of the worshippers: last of some beast, no matter what.
25. This burn: of this make cakes & eat unto me. This hath also another use; let it be laid before me, and kept thick with perfumes of your orison: it shall become full of beetles as it were and creeping things sacred unto me.
26. These slay, naming your enemies; & they shall fall before you.
27. Also these shall breed lust & power of lust in you at the eating thereof.
28. Also ye shall be strong in war.
29. Moreover, be they long kept, it is better; for they swell with my force. All before me. — Liber CCXX:III

I began performing the Gnostic Mass as a novice priestess over a year ago. This new role launched me into an exploration of ‘Cakes of Light’ that I had not previously given any thought. How do you make cakes? What are the essential ingredients in cakes? What is the EGC-suggested way to make cakes?

Though they are an important part of our central public and private ritual, there is some deviation in the method of producing Cakes of Light. A quick search of the internet will garner an assortment of recipes to choose from, but a standard recipe is not given.

The EGC Manual thankfully gives us sanctioned guidelines within which to work:

“For all official celebrations of the Gnostic Mass, except for those private celebrations of the Gnostic Mass at which all participants have specifically requested otherwise, the Cakes of Light provided by the celebrants to the congregation shall be made with the following ingredients and with no other ingredients:

  1. Meal (any ground edible grain);
  2. Honey;
  3. Leavings of red wine;
  4. Oil of Abramelin (a blend of cinnamon, myrrh, galangal and olive oils);
  5. Olive oil; and
  6. Optionally, one of the following ingredients may be added:
    • Livestock blood obtained legally from a butcher shop or a farm; or
    • Ash from Cakes of Light made according to any reasonable interpretation of CCXX III:23 and which have been burned in accordance with CCXX III:25.”

A useful instruction; though not all items are qualified or defined, leaving room for wide interpretation.

In Magick in Theory and Practice, Chapter XX: Of the Eucharist and of the Art of Alchemy, the footnote to the suitability of Cakes of Light in the Eucharist of three elements, Crowley tells us:

1. The Cakes of Light are universally applicable; they contain meal, honey, and oil (carbohydrates, fats, and proteids [sic], the three necessaries of human nutrition): also perfume of the three essential types of magical and curative virtue; the subtle principle of animal life itself is fixed in them by the introduction of fresh living blood.

The actual preparation of Cakes of Light is not exactly the topic most expounded upon, as we can see. In this essay, I will address what is to me one of the more controversial ingredients: wine leavings.

“How can wine leavings be controversial?” one might ask. Simply put—most people do not know what they are. A survey of recipes finds that most makers are using something that I shall lovingly refer to as ‘wine goo’. This goo is made by a simple reduction of red wine or port, conducted at low temperature to avoid scorching the wine, and evaporating off the ~10% ethanol and the large amount of the water contained in the wine, until left with a few tablespoons of a thick wine syrup. My first batch of Cakes was made with one of these recipes replete with wine goo. Some lucky few get the lees from wineries, which are essentially pulp, grape skins, salts, and dead yeast. I am not one of those few so my search continued.

I wondered: are either lees or goo what was originally intended? As always, when faced with this question, I turned to the commentary for direction or elucidation. After all, who would know better than Crowley how he interprets this? In the “New Comment” in the Law is for All, Crowley writes:

Meal: ordinary wheaten flour; leavings: the “beeswing” of port should be good; Oil of Abramelin: take 8 parts of oil of cinnamon, four of oil of myrrh, two of oil of galangal, seven of olive oil.

Plain enough, right? We know what those oils are and the wheaten flour is easy, but what is this ‘beeswing of port’ he references? During the fermentation process, leavings settle to the bottom of the casks which contain salts that are ultimately formed into cream of tartar. This tartarate is found in the lees of wine (remember the salts), but is best formed as a secondary crust in port and some wines, pure in consistency, that comes off in shining flakes or scales that resemble bees’ wings, hence beeswing of port.

The scales of tartar are a byproduct of the winemaking process and have been used in baking for years. In fact, grapes are the only significant natural source; it is only in modern times that we are unaware of this byproduct, as we tend to follow recipes more than understand the chemistry involved. What is the purpose of cream of tartar in baking? Even though I have it in my spice rack, I could not have told you what it actually does before making my own Cakes of Light led to this research, except its use in meringue. A recipe calls for it, I use it, but I did not know.

In A Text-book of Sanitary and Applied Chemistry, or, The Chemistry of Water, Air, and Food (Summerfield, 1917), I found the following entry:

Sodium bicarbonate and cream of tartar are often used to render dough light. The first of these may be mixed with the flour, and the latter with the water that is used in mixing the dough, or both may be sifted and mixed with the flourÉ The tartarate is made from “argols” that are collected in the bottom of wine casks in the process of fermentation.

This instruction, however, calls for the mixing of baking soda and cream of tartar (and incidentally makes baking powder), which makes the dough lighter primarily due to the acid-base reaction of the alkali sodium bicarbonate and the tartaric acid salt, releasing carbon dioxide, thus lightening the dough with microscopic pockets of gas. Our recipe does not call for baking soda; however, there is some argument for the cream of tartar leavening the dough through its own reaction to heat. Honey itself is an acidic compound, though, so why would we want to use cream of tartar, another acidic component? When used without the corresponding base, it is said to make the dough stiffer and stronger, holding its shape well, thus making it a key ingredient in making your own play-dough.

A stronger dough is sensible for making the perfume described in Liber CCXX, III: 23-4. I can also see how it would be useful in making our cakes, as can anyone who has seen a cake explode into a rain of crumbs. Could that be its only purpose? Is it simply to lend stability to the shape of the Cakes? Or could it have an interaction with the honey?

In candy-making, an acid (cream of tartar or lemon juice) enhances a process called inversion in the disaccharides such as sucrose, wherein the carbohydrate breaks down into its component sugars, modifying the texture of the candy. Honey being a polysaccharide would benefit from this ‘inversion’ by preventing the crystallization of the honey in the cake, which can lead to the hard, crunchy cakes you may have experienced. Honey is also hygroscopic and will bring moisture to the cakes as they sit, stalling the process of going stale.

In the article on Cakes of Light from Wikipedia, a recipe for making your own wine leavings is given, where grape juice is fermented in a jug. It seems to be a very easy way to accumulate “thick leavings of red wine,” but I find it unsuitable for my uses. Since the commentary by Crowley calls for beeswing by name, he specifies which salt from the winemaking process we should use. The leavings resulting from fermentation does not lead to the production of tartaric acid alone, but to a blend of tartaric, malic, and citric acids and their salt derivatives. The quantity of each acid being determined by the growing location of the grapes used in the production of the grape juice, as the relative acidity is dictated by climate and soil. For those who wish to use the more complex “thick leavings” rather than the more purified salt identified by Crowley, the Wikipedia recipe provides an easy method to generate leavings.

Using McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, as a guide, I developed a basic recipe using the proportions of a type of cake that had the least amount of eggs (which are obviously not an ingredient, but the lost moisture they provide was easily replaced with honey instead of the more standard sugar found in cake recipes). The temperature shown is optimum for avoiding hard texture or peaked surfaces in cake-baking. This temperature is higher than most Cake of Light recipes call for, but seems reasonable based on baking experience.

I baked the thick and shiny batter in two formats: individual cookies and a very thin sheet cake. The formula was off, and it tasted a little like play dough, with too much cream of tartar and not enough honey. It was also discolored from the addition of ash, and frankly, the wine flavor and color were missed by some tasters. The cakes themselves were best made in the sheet and then cut with my smallest biscuit cutter1. They came out light, thin, and easily eaten, not requiring a large amount of liquid to wash down, which can be annoying in a cake, and the honey did not crystallize.

The following recipe was developed to correct the flavor and the hue:?

1/2-cup whole wheat flour

3/4-cup all purpose flour, unbleached

1/2-tsp cream of tartar

1/2-tsp gnostic ashes

1 1/4-cup pure honey

1/2-cup olive oil with several drops of Abramelin oil

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. Mix the dry ingredients in a small bowl, sifting for best texture. Mix the liquid ingredients in a large bowl, whisking until well mixed and somewhat aerated. Fold in the flour mixture slowly, until thoroughly moistened. Pour batter out on jelly roll pan or other large rectangular pan, ensuring a thin cake.

Bake 10-15 minutes, until edges begin browning. Let cool, and cut with small circle cutter. Makes 30-100 cakes, depending on size of the circle.

Cream of tartar turned out to be an inexpensive and easy way to make tasty, soft, structurally sound, and slightly fluffy cakes. Those who enjoy the red wine flavor can use lees from a winery or leavings from an old bottle of port or produced from grape juice and still benefit from the tartarate, but a wine reduction is only flavoring and is not indicated by Crowley or the E.G.C. guidelines.

1 I have since switched to an OXO Good Grips Tomato Corer for better sizing and ease of use.