Tarta de Santiago
Despite the fact that it did not appear in the curriculum, I decided to make one of my favorite cakes, the Tarta de Santiago, during my Basic and Classical Cakes class. I know, I know; I’m constantly complaining about the fact that I don’t like cake, and yet I seem to write about it an awful lot… Let me revise my statement. I only like very specific kinds of cake, namely the dense, moist, flavorful kinds. Give me anything but a dry sponge cake with buttercream!
But seriously, this is much better than cake. This is a marzipan-like batter that is nothing more than eggs, sugar, and freshly-ground almond flour… oh, yeah.
You can call this cake whatever you’d like: Tarta de Santiago, Gateau Saint James, or Saint James Cake. Hell, call it the Cake of the Pointy Sword. Whatever you call it, it is simple and gorgeous; I love the stencil so much that I actually served it for lunch without slicing it. Thirty minutes later when no one had taken a piece, I finally had to admit defeat and cut it up.
The symbol has an interesting history; Saint James was a martyr who was decapitated by a sword, so this fleur-de-lis-adorned sword has been used as the symbol for the Order of St. James since the 12th century. Apparently the sharp bottom point is a reference to the Crusades, when knights would sharpen the bottoms of their crucifixes so that they could delve them into the ground while they prayed their daily devotions. Nowadays, anyone who participates in the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela on the Western coast of Spain (a voyage known as “El Camino” or “The Way of Saint James”) surely has a slice of this cake when they arrive at their final destination. When I visited Santiago, I ate more than my fair share of this cake, which can be found in any pastry shop worth its almonds. Eating this cake the other day brought me back to Spain, which was definitely pretty sweet.
A note: this cake contains very few ingredients, so it’s important to use high-quality almonds for the best flavor. Marcona almonds are very popular in Spain and are well-known for being less bitter than many other varieties of almonds, which makes them great for this cake as well as for marzipan and other almond-centric treats. Also, a food processor probably won’t be able to break all of your nuts into a fine powder, so I would suggest toasting more than 250 g of almonds. After grinding, you can sift out 250 g of the fresh almond flour for this recipe and reserve the remaining almond flour as well as the larger chunks for another purpose. If that sounds like too much work and you have a high-quality almond flour that you like to use, I’m sure it will work great–just toast it a little bit before baking, either in a dry skillet or in the oven.
Tarta de Santiago
250 g marcona almonds
250 g sugar
zest from half a lemon
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1. Lightly toast your almonds in a 350º oven; set aside to cool.
2. Meanwhile, grease and flour an 8-inch cake pan and keep the oven at 350º for your cake.
3. In a food processor, process the almonds with the sugar until the almonds are a fine powder. Add the cinnamon and lemon zest to the food processor and pulse to incorporate.
4. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and gently fold in the eggs. You want this cake to be quite dense, so don’t overmix it!
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350º until the cake is golden brown on top and springs back when touched, 20-30 minutes.
6. When cake has cooled completely, turn out of the pan and place the stencil on top of the cake. Generously dust the cake with powdered sugar, and gently remove the stencil to keep the silhouette clean.