Pomegranate lime vanilla yogurt cake

Pretty in pink can be difficult to achieve without food dye. Unfortunately, taking an all-natural approach might not always turn out as you expected. This was the case with a batch of blood orange cinnamon rolls Aaron prepared one day. While delicious, the attempt to stain the icing ruby red with blood orange juice instead yielded a deeply unappetizing mauve-taupe. My attempts to correct with the trusty dropper of food dye resulted in nuclear pink. Ultimately, the project was abandoned for photographic purposes. This pomegranate lime vanilla yogurt cake, on the other hand, is perfectly calibrated to yield a beautiful finish using only the most natural of ingredients.

Pomegranates, I regret to inform you, are not a miracle wonder-fruit that will imbue you with eternal life. You’re thinking of the golden apples of the Hesperides (or, if you prefer Norse myths, the golden apples of Idun). Your grocer probably will just look at you funny if you request these varieties. It seems the owners of Pom Wonderful are so adept at marketing that they recently were slapped with a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit for misleading their customers about the health benefits of their products. That doesn’t mean, however, that pomegranates aren’t delicious. I’ve loved them ever since I was little, my curiosity piqued by the ancient Greek myth of the seasons.

If you’re not familiar, I’ll provide crib notes: Persephone (goddess of flowers) was the daughter of Demeter (goddess of grain). Persephone was so beautiful that when Hades (god of the underworld) saw her, he abducted her to his subterranean kingdom to force her to be his wife (gross). Demeter was so disconsolate over the loss of her daughter, she allowed all plant life to wither in her sorrow. Worried that humanity would starve, leaving no one to worship the gods, Zeus (god of the sky), sought to intervene. He demanded Persephone’s release, but tricky Hades persuaded Persephone to eat six pomegranate seeds, knowing that those who eat the food of the underworld must always remain there. Since Zeus was king of the Olympian gods, and it’s good to be the king, a compromise was reached: Persephone would remain with Hades for six months of the year, one for each pomegranate seed she ate, and be free to return to her mother the remainder. This myth explained the cycle of the seasons and why spring arrives in a profusion of flowers, only to wither and die with the Autumn.

The mystique of the Fruit of the Underworld extends beyond mythology: pomegranates have a powerful, refreshing flavor. They’re at once sweet and tart, but with a deeper, darker fruity richness than the citrus we often afford this description. If you’ve not worked with a fresh pomegranate, before, they’re a bit unusual: a thick, fleshy skin conceals layers of white membrane lined with glistening, jewel-like pips, the color of dark garnets.

The arils, as the pips are properly called, offer a wonderful textural contrast — bursting juiciness reminiscent of caviar from the flesh, and a toothsome crunch from the seeds. Be prepared that, because of said juiciness, slicing into a pomegranate will look like murder.

Emphasized with lime’s tartness and underscored with the warm, woodsy musk of vanilla bean, this makes for a stunning winter dessert, refreshing after heavy meals and poignant with seasonal significance.

Pomegranate lime vanilla yogurt cake

The obsession with room-temperature ingredients in much of baking is centered around the readiness of warmer molecules to blend together and the specific texture of softened butter, dairy, or oil products and their ability to capture air and, subsequently, other ingredients. Slowly coming to temp over a few hours on the counter is ideal, but you quickly can soften butter in the microwave with 10-second pulses and take the chill off eggs and (sealed) yogurt by placing them in a warm water bath. Serves about 12.

For the cake

1 1/2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground

1 scant cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup pomegranate juice (100 percent, unsweetened)

1/2 lime, freshly zested

1 vanilla bean, sliced and seeded (or 1 tablespoon vanilla paste or extract)

1 tablespoon lime juice, freshly squeezed

5  ounces full-fat plain Greek yogurt or cream skyr

For the glaze

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup pomegranate juice (100 percent, unsweetened)

1/2 lime, freshly zested

1 vanilla bean, sliced and seeded (or 1 tablespoon vanilla paste or extract)

For garnish

2/3 cup fresh pomegranate arils

Fresh lime zest

Preheat an oven to 350F and butter a deep 9-inch cake pan, lining the bottom with a round of buttered parchment.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl.

Cream together sugar and butter in large bowl or stand mixer until fluffy and well-blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Beat in pomegranate juice, lime zest and lime juice. Whisk in the yogurt (mixture will look grossly curdled). Beat the flour mixture into batter just until blended and smoothed back out.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a tester comes out mostly clean, with just a few loose, clinging crumbs, or until you can lightly press the top with your fingers and the cake springs back into shape (about 25 minutes). Allow to cool completely.

While the cake cools, sift powdered sugar into a medium bowl; whisk in pomegranate juice, vanilla and lime zest.

Turn the cake out onto a serving plate and use a fork or wooden skewer to poke holes over the top of cooled cake, spacing them roughly 1 inch apart (less space/more holes for a skewer). Slowly drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake and allow to spread evenly.

To serve, sprinkle pomegranate arils and lime zest over the cake.