On 25 July the citizens of Santiago de Compostela help themselves to another slice of pie as they celebrate the feast day of St James (Sant Iago). The apostle is believed to have sailed to the rain-lashed north western shores of Spain and his bones are claimed to be buried in the depths of the magnificent cathedral of the beautiful capital city of the region of Galicia. Since medieval times pilgrims have walked hundreds of miles, along various routes, on the picturesque Camino de Santiago (watch Martin Sheen in “The Way” to get a feel for the landscapes) to seek remission of their sins. Still today, during the summer months, a steady stream of dusty sunbaked travellers of all ages stumble their last few tired steps through a narrow corner opening out into the vast plaza, where they gape, astounded both by the towering cathedral and by the enormity of their achievement. If one has walked at least the last 100 kms one may collect an official Certificate, after which a comforting piece of the almond pie of St James is available in every cafe and restaurant to restore one’s depleted energy. I confess that my visits to Santiago of the Field of Stars have hereunto been made by plane but maybe one day I will step up to the walk.
The recipe for the Tarta de Santiago is easy to make, and an online search comes up with little variation in the suggested ingredients. I made the full version below to feed a crowd earlier this week, and then made a reduced version for small-family use by exactly halving the ingredients. We enjoyed a slice with a cup of Earl Grey, but there is no reason I can think of why a glass of Galician Albarino Rias Biaxas would not enhance the experience.
- 250g caster sugar
- 250g ground almonds
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- Grated zest of 1 orange
- 6 eggs
Mix all the ingredients – I whizzed them all together in the food processor.
Bake in a loose-bottomed 22cm cake tin at about 160 C until golden and firm.
When it has cooled and you have taken it out of the tin you will need to place a stencil of the Cross of St James on the cake and sift a nice thick layer of icing sugar over the whole of the surface. After you have carefully removed the stencil there will be a lovely clear image of the Cross. A moistened bit of kitchen paper picks up any inappropriate incursions of sugar. For the stencil there is a picture on Wikimedia Commons that you can print and cut out. Having the intention of making at least two tarts I thought I would cut the stencil out of a piece of transparent plastic so I could rinse and re-use it, but, oh boy, what a struggle – that was 25 minutes of my life I’m never going to get back – and in the end I gave up and made it quickly and easily from the printer paper.
Galicia’s wild romantic individualism, reflected through its ancient oral story-telling traditions, has much in common with those other edgy territories, Brittany, Cornwall and Wales, but it’s better at cake.