A recipe for pleasure: Tarta de Santiago (Santiago’s Cake)

By Katrin Gilger – Tarta de Santiago, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=89958476

Tarta de Santiago (or Torta de Santiago in Galego, the language of Galicia) is one of my favourite deserts and is a wonderful expression of what is best in Spanish cooking — good ingredients used simply but effectively.  Essentially, it’s a flat cake of almonds, eggs and sugar, in roughly equal measure, which mightn’t sound very adventurous, but I always get excited when I see it on the menu and I’m willing to risk a diabetic shock every time for that crumbly sweetness.  Since 2009 it has had Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, meaning that only tartas made in Galicia and adhering to certain quality guidelines (e.g. percentage of almonds) are permitted to be sold as Tarta de Santiago.

During the first lockdown in 2020, my friend and fellow peregrina Zoe and I had a remote bake off, where she clearly put my effort in the shade.  I’m not going to embarrass myself by putting up the photos. We both followed the same recipe by the Galician chef Alfonso López Alonso, which you can watch here on YouTube, or read here from the website of the Spanish newspaper El País.  I’ve translated it below, with a few additional notes.

Ingredients

  • 250g peeled almonds
  • 5 large eggs
  • 250 g sugar
  • 1/2 lemon [My note: rind only]
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/2 shot of spirits [My note: Galicia is known for spirits like orujo (grappa to Italians), if you don’t have anything similar just use something dry, like gin]
  • Icing/powdered sugar for decorating

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Toast the almonds in a pan over a gentle heat, taking care not to burn them.  Remove and let them harden.
  3. While they are frying, beat the eggs with the sugar until they turn a pale colour.  Grate in the lemon and add the spirits and cinnamon.
  4. Blend half of the almonds thoroughly, until they’re like flour.  Blend the other half for less time, so that they retain a coarser texture.
  5. Add the almonds to the eggs with the sugar and mix with a spatula until smooth.
  6. Grease a detachable tin or flexible mould of 28cm diameter with butter.  [My note: make sure it’s well-greased, as this is a crumbly cake and you want it to be able to get it out of the tin without falling apart on you].  Put the mixture in the oven for 30 minutes until the surface is golden.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for another ten minutes.  The exact time varies depending on the oven.  The best thing to do is check it by pricking it with a skewer or fork: if it comes out clean, it’s ready.
  7. Take out of the oven and leave it to cool for ten minutes before removing from the tin.
  8. When it is completely cool, sprinkle with the icing/powdered sugar.  If you want, make a stencil of the Cross of Santiago, which you can download from this blog. [My note: make sure it really is completely cool, otherwise the icing sugar will melt into it, instead of giving it the snow-covered appearance you want]

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