Spain – Tarta de Santiago

This post is for my lovely friend Jen, who I don’t see enough of.  We caught up last week and I mentioned that I was doing this blog and she told me I had to make this cake, so I looked it up, thought it sounded absolutely delicious and made it!!  Thank you Jen!

I wasn’t disappointed.  Barely any ingredients to buy, not much preparation and a delicious cake/tart at the end of it – what’s not to like!

IMG_2549_aThe cake originates from north-western Spain in Galicia and dates back to medieval times.  The cross is that of St James (the Patron Saint of Spain) whose relics are believed to lie in Santiago de Compostela.  Decorating the cake with the cross is actually a fairly recent addition, not appearing until the 1920s, when Jose Mora Soto from Santiago de Compostela came up with the idea, which was soon copied by other cooks until the decoration spread throughout the whole of Galicia and gives the cake it’s distinctive look today.

It’s very popular with pilgrims walking the Way of St James, to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The Camino walk is 800km over the Pyrenees mountains in France and through to the town of Santiago de Compostela and takes anywhere between 30-90 days depending on how fit you are and how hard you push yourself.  After tasting the cake, I can see why the pilgrims on this route must have appreciated a slice after their long journey – they’d definitely earned it.  I recently watched a fantastic film called The Way, with Martin Sheen, and it’s all about this journey – I definitely recommend watching it.  The scenery looks absolutely stunning, and I’d love to go there some day – although I’m not sure it would be to do the walk, but I would definitely buy the cake!

The cake is most commonly eaten in July, in the run up to the feast day of St James’ which is celebrated on 25 July.

IMG_2552_aThis recipe is based on that of Claudia Roden, with a few tweaks.

Tarta de Santiago

Serves 10

  • 250g ground almonds
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 250g caster sugar
  • zest of 1 orange
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • icing sugar,  for dusting the cake

NB: A number of recipes recommend using whole, blanched almonds and grinding them yourself as it gives a better flavour and texture, as the pre-ground ones can be a bit too small.  I couldn’t get hold of whole almonds in our little shop down the road so bought ground instead, which did the job.  It’s up to you really – ground is less effort, but whole probably gives a more almondy flavour, and with so few ingredients, it’s probably worth going the extra mile.  When I make it again, I’ll use whole almonds.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a pale cream with an electric mixer, then beat in the orange and lemon zest and almond extract. Add the ground almonds and mix very well.

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With a cleaned electric mixer, whisk egg whites until stiff and fold into egg and almond mixture – the mixture is pretty thick so you need to turn it over quite a bit into the egg whites.  Be careful not to knock all the air out of the egg whites as that acts as the raising agent.   Grease a spring-form cake tin around 28cm in diameter (preferably non-stick) with butter, line the base with baking parchment, then pour in the mixture.  This recipe didn’t tell you to line with baking parchment, so a bit of my cake got stuck on the bottom, so I would advise lining it!

I’d also recommend smoothing the top of the cake mixture with a palette knife as mine was a little uneven when it came out of the oven, meaning that the cross silhouette on the top wasn’t as smart as it could have been.  Maybe it just adds to the charm.  

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Put the cake into an oven preheated to 180C for 40 minutes or until it feels firm. Let it cool before turning out. Dust the top with icing sugar.

If you like, cut the shape of a Santiago cross out of paper (I found a good template here) and place it in the middle of the cake before dusting with icing sugar.  Then remove the paper shape and enjoy with a lovely cup of coffee, or tea, or just on its own – it’s delicious.

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