This is a recipe I’ve been trying to get my hands on for years. Ever since walking the last 100 miles of the El Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage of Northern Spain, and tasting this regional cake, I’ve been on a hunt for the traditional Tarta de Santiago Recipe. I tested several versions at home and finally found the perfect one on epicurious.com by Claudia Roden. This special almond cake, which also happens to be a gluten free cake, is made in cities across Northern Spain and enjoyed by the locals as well as those taking the journey to Santiago, the city where Saint James’ body lay.
Back in my college days, I had the chance to walk the last 100 miles (about 7 days) of this pilgrimage also known as The Camino de Santiago (translated the way of Saint James). Legend holds that St. James’s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela. Folks from all over the world take this trek in search of more spiritual answers in their own life or just as a time of travel and exercise. Many consider the experience a spiritual adventure to remove themselves from the bustle of modern life. It serves as a retreat for many modern “pilgrims”.
The starting point for this pilgrimage is different for many. Today tens of thousands of travelers set out each year from their front doorstep, or popular starting points across Europe, to make their way to Santiago de Compostela. We started about 7 days out and ventured through modern as well as medieval cities, some days feeling as if we had literally traveled back in time.
Along the way, we camped at different sites and found places to eat, from small cafes to local’s homes. Every city or town that we walked through had cafes with one item in common, the Tarta de Santiago. This cake is made from almonds, lemon and orange zest and a few other ingredients. It’s simplicity and rustic nature remind be of the simplicity of many of the towns we journeyed through. The cross on top of the cake is a symbol of Saint James, and is appropriately stenciled on the top of every cake in the region.
Now that I’ve found my prized recipe I am sure I’ll be making it for years to come and remembering my special time in Spain.
- 1/2 pound (1 3/4 cups) whole almonds, preferably blanched
- 6 large eggs, separated
- 1 1/4 cups superfine sugar
- Grated zest of 1 orange
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- 4 drops almond extract
- Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
- Finely grind the almonds in a food processor.
- With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a smooth pale cream. Beat in the zests and almond extract. Add the ground almonds and mix very well.
- With clean beaters, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold them into the egg and almond mixture (the mixture is thick, so that you will need to turn it over quite a bit into the egg whites).
- Grease an 11-inch springform pan, preferably nonstick, with butter and dust it with flour or spray with cooking spray. Pour in the cake batter, and bake into a preheated 350°F for 40 minutes, or until it feels firm to the touch. Let cool before turning out.
- Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with confectioners' sugar. Or, if you like, cut a St. James cross out of paper. Place it in the middle of the cake, and dust the cake with confectioners' sugar, then remove the paper.
Stencil the top of the cake using the traditional cross symbol of Saint James.
Here is a pdf of the cross that you may print out and use for the top of your cake. Simply click on the image and when it opens in a new page, print out that page. Cut out the cross then use it as a stencil as you sprinkle the cake with powdered sugar.