Saturday, 14 July 2012
At the end of the Way of St James pilgrims reach the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. This pilgrimage has been made since the 9th century.
I have no personal experience of the city or the route, though several of my friends have talked about walking it and a few have succeeded. None of them mentioned it but I've read that every bakery and restaurant in the city has this special cake displayed proudly in their windows.
I found this recipe in Claudia Roden's fantastic book The Food of Spain. Some recipes call for a pastry tart base but I liked the idea of the filling standing alone. Claudia believes this cake evolved from a Passover cake brought to Galicia by Jews fleeing Andalucia in the 12th and 13th centuries. Even though (and partly because) I'm an atheist, I find religions and their history fascinating.
This recipe calls for whole blanched almonds, which you then grind yourself. It's worth the extra step in a cake like this as there are so few ingredients - just almonds, eggs, sugar and citrus zest.
If you have whole almonds with their skins on, you can easily blanche them. It's a little fiddly but I rather enjoy it.
All you do is place your almonds into a bowl or mug, cover them with boiling water and leave to sit for a few minutes before draining. Then you can just use your fingers to slip the skin off.
The tarta traditionally has the cross of St James (the apostle's relics are believed to be in the cathedral) stenciled with icing sugar in the middle. I printed off a small version of this template, then cut it out. Place in the middle, dust with sugar, then whip it off. I made a smaller version that fits in a 6 or 7 inch tin, but you can easily double the mixture and use an 11 or 12 inch tin.
So often damp almond-citrus cakes are very heavy, but this one manages to be feathery light. The edges crisp up almost like a meringue or pavlova. It's simple but perfect.
Tarta de Santiago
(adapted from Claudia Roden's The Food of Spain)
125g blanched whole almonds
3 eggs, separated
125g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon (or orange, or half of each)
icing sugar, to dust
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Butter a 7" tin and then dust with flour. Tap out any excess. Grind the almonds in a food processor until they're fine - don't overdo it as it will eventually turn into a paste. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until they're pale and thick. Stir in the zest. Add the almonds and mix together - it gets pretty stiff.
In a clean bowl (wipe down with a bit of lemon if it looks murky), whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Take a big spoonful of whites and mix into the almond mixture to loosen it. Scrape it all into the egg white bowl and use a big spoon (I use a metal one) to carefully fold them together. Keep folding until the mixture is uniform - you don't want lumps of either mix left, but try to keep most of the volume. Scrape into the tin.
Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and a toothpick comes cleanly from the centre.Leave to cool in the tin. Slide a knife around the edge to loosen the cake then remove to a plate. Put the stencil on top of the cake and sieve icing sugar over the top. Remove the stencil, then serve. Keeps well in a tin for a few days.
(Makes about 6-8 slices)