In Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Tarta de Santiago is sold everywhere. The city lies at the end of one of the most popular medieval pilgrimages, the Way of St. James, which has been followed since the 9th century. It is still walked today.
The Tarta is a simple almond cake with just a few ingredients. In some recipes, the cake batter is baked into a tart base, but like Claudia Roden, my inspiration for this recipe, I like the idea of the cake standing alone. Claudia also believes that this cake could have evolved from a Passover cake brought to Galicia by Jews fleeing Andalucia in the 12th and 13th centuries.
The most distinctive feature of the Tarta is the cross that is stenciled in the middle with icing sugar. It is the cross of St James, whose relics are believed to lie in the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela at the end of the route.
I found my cross template online, printed it out, cut around it and then used it as a stencil. I’ve kept it so I always have it on hand. It’s a very effective technique -– I’d love to try and use it with other patterns to decorate simple cakes -– some initials, perhaps, or a number for a birthday.
125 grams (1 cup) blanched whole almonds 3 large eggs 125 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) white granulated sugar Pinch of fine sea salt Zest of 1 lemon (or half a lemon and half an orange) Icing sugar, to dust
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter a 7-inch round cake tin, then dust with flour until fully covered and tap out any excess.
Process the almonds until they're finely ground but still have some texture -- a touch bigger than the ground almonds you usually buy. I always grind my own almonds for this cake because I think it improves the flavor; when you have so few ingredients, it makes a big difference.
Next, separate your eggs and place the yolks in a bowl with the sugar and salt. Whip until pale, thick, and smooth. Add the zest, stir, then mix in the almonds -- you'll have a pretty stiff paste.
Whip the whites up to soft peak. I usually do this by hand as my Kitchenaid bowl has the other mixture in it and I like the control, but you could transfer it to another bowl (or, if you're very clever, have an extra Kitchenaid bowl).
Dollop a big spoon of the whites into the almond-yolks and fold it through to loosen it; you don't have to be too gentle. Scrape the whole bowl into the side of the egg white bowl (so you don't squish the volume out of the whites by glooping it all on top).
Carefully fold the almond-yolks into the whites. It needs to be consistent, with no lumps of either mix, but don't overdo it -- you want to keep the air in the mixture, as the egg is the only rising agent.
Scrape into the prepared tin -- no need to level it off. Place into the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The cake should be set, golden brown, and a toothpick should come cleanly out of the center.
Leave the cake to cool on a wire rack. It will sink a little in the middle -- that's normal. Remove from the tin. Place a paper cutout of the cross in the middle of the cake, then dust the cake with icing sugar. Carefully lift the cross off, then transfer the cake to a serving plate.