Santiago Tart

Santiago Tart

Santiago Tart

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.


Rhubarb Pudding

Rhubarb Pudding

Proving the proverb that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, but I’ll admit that it’s not the most photogenic of desserts, even if I had remembered to take a photo before the spoons were grasped.

Down at the bottom of my garden the sturdy shoots of pink rhubarb, under their umbrellas of dark green leaves, have been responding to days on end of sunshine and to the contents of the rain water butt. Cooked within moments of being picked, this year’s croppings have already resulted in a few good bake mixes. Some recipes invite you to cook and sweeten your rhubarb before adding it to the other ingredients but I prefer to leave it au naturel and experience the exquisite burst of tartness embedded within the sweet surrounding dough, such a decadent pleasure.

This recipe makes a pudding or a cake or individual muffins.

  1. Cream together 120g butter or vegetable margarine and 170g soft brown sugar. For added richness I like to use muscovado sugar, which resists amalgamation, but melting the butter and sugar gently together while stirring briskly is worth the faff.
  2. Mix in a quarter of a teaspoon of ground ginger. Yes, only a quarter, for a subtle buzz. I have had a go at alternatives here such as a few drops of vanilla or almond essence, but again keeping it mean, letting the rhubarb’s light shine.
  3. Mix in the grated zest of one lemon.
  4. Add 3 beaten eggs.
  5. Mix in 100g soured cream.
  6. Fold in 170g self-raising flour (or, for the wheat-fearing, spelt flour with a teaspoon of baking powder).
  7. Fold in 200g rhubarb sliced into 1cm pieces.
  8. Put the mixture into a pudding dish, cake tin, or muffin tin depending on what you decide you are going to call it. This decision will also affect the oven temperature and length of cooking time. I would recommend a little lower temperature and a little longer than you would bake a Victoria sandwich cake.

The above can be followed conscientiously and meditatively, or steps 1-5 can be achieved all at one, carefree, rapturous, go in the food processor, but the flour needs as little mixing as possible, so as not to beat the air out of it, just a few pulses, and the rhubarb pieces just a pulse or two so as not to lose their identity.

I served the pudding, warm, with spoonfuls of crème fraiche, to a recent jolly gathering which included a poet from Bloomsbury, who savoured a second helping and said some appreciative words, although they did not rhyme.

Goosnargh cakes

966 Goosnargh cakes

Goosnargh Cakes

Slow-Baked Easter Biscuits from Lancashire

Long ago in the village of Goosnargh (pronounced “goozner”), in the heart of the peaceful Ribble valley in the north of Lancashire, the village baker produced a new biscuit for Easter. I imagine him thinking it up as a frugal opportunity of using the residual heat from the dying oven after the last batch of bread came out on Holy Thursday.  After a long day farming the fields by the river Ribble my ancestors would return home to each take their shift at weaving cotton on the hand loom in the farmhouse. Perhaps they ate these biscuits to keep them going. I have found my forebears’ births, marriages and deaths recorded by the Jesuits at their chapel at nearby Stonyhurst. Then, in the 1840s, when the first cotton factory was built further along the river, putting the hand loom weavers out of business, records show that the younger members of the family left to seek work on the new railways in Liverpool. There, these strong country boys, slow and sparing of speech, met the hungry Irish girls yattering and skittering off the boats, the Great Famine a rough sea away. Did they, I wonder, woo them with biscuits?

  1. Mix 110g butter or margarine with 20g caster sugar and 180g plain flour and 1 tablespoon caraway seeds and 1 teaspoon of ground coriander, using the method you would use for shortbread. (I lob it all into the food processor.) Spelt flour works perfectly here for those who wish to avoid wheat flour.
  2. Chill the dough if you have time and inclination then roll it out to 5mm. The traditional Goosnargh cake is cut into plain-edged, not fluted, rounds, which can be achieved with an upturned glass tumbler. This quantity makes a little over a dozen biscuits. Place on a floured baking tray.
  3. The crucial element of the Goosnargh cake, its USP if you will, is that it is baked slowly on a low heat and should never turn brown. I put them in the fan oven at 150 degrees for about 25 minutes, taking them out while still pale, and sprinkling a little more caster sugar on them.

Best enjoyed with a cup of tea (and this might be one of very few occasions when a native Lancastrian will be tempted to partake of a brand of tea from the adjacent county*) they make an interesting contrast to the unrelenting sweetness of the usual paschal comestibles.

I also found an ancestor on the other side of my family tree who is buried at Goosnargh, having died at the nearby Lancashire County Lunatic Asylum. I would have hoped that here, too, the biscuits would have found their way on to the inmates’ tea plates. I thought at first that this ancestor was a servant at the asylum, but no, the record showed that her occupation had been a servant prior to her incarceration for lunacy. Thankfully the DNA has become diluted across the intervening years, such that her descendants now evince only a mild eccentricity.

* an elucidation for our non-UK readers: “Yorkshire Tea” is a best-selling brand throughout the country, but the denizens of the contiguous counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire maintain a good-natured rivalry which goes back to the Wars of the Roses in the 1480s, the red rose being the symbol of the Lancastrians and the white rose the symbol of the Yorkists, whose leader, Richard III, slain on the battlefield, was reburied this week in Leicester Cathedral.


946 Socca

The word “conviviality” derives from the Latin word for “feast” and hints at the Latin words for “living with”. In French the word for “friend” is “copain”, derived from the Latin words for eating bread together. The recent troubling events in France, the home of gastronomic excellence and inevitably consequent conviviality, make us want no more threats to the French people’s ability to continue to feast and live together in comfort and harmony with their friends and neighbours. If anyone is contemplating starting up a Feasting For Peace movement I shall, with alacrity, apply to be considered for the post of local Branch Membership Secretary.

After years of looking out for “chick pea flour” I have discovered that it is marketed under other names (yes, all right, I could have tried harder) and I have purchased a bag of “gram flour”. At last I can attempt to bring back those fragrant holiday memories of the street market in Nice on the Côte d’Azur, where from a wide cast iron pan set over a wood fire in a tin drum comes forth the fastest and best of fast foods, the “socca”, a tasty chick pea flour pancake folded into a crisp-edged floppy cone, to take the edge, and more, off an appetite whipped up by the sea breeze sweeping the sunlit length of the Promenade des Anglais.

“Cuisine Niçoise” (first published in English in 1983) is an engaging compendium of culture and cookery compiled by allegedly crooked politician and former mayor of Nice, Jacques Médecin. He tells us that socca used to sustain the builders constructing the city’s fine buildings. It was the job of the site’s “bochou” (gofer) to listen for the cry of the itinerant socca vendor and to ensure his hungry co-workers got some before it cooled.

Simply combine equal volumes of chick pea flour and water, add some olive oil and some salt, mix to a smooth batter, leave it to stand for 15 minutes, then pour a ladleful into your hot frying pan that is already sizzling with a little olive oil.

I used 250ml of flour with 250ml of water plus 25ml of olive oil (additional oil is needed for frying the pancakes) and a teaspoon of salt. This amount made about six dinner-plate sized thin pancakes.

Jacques Médecin proposes, if there be no wood fire readily available, pouring the mixture into an oiled baking tin to a depth of 2-3mm and placing it under a hot grill, piercing blisters as they form, until it is well browned, almost burnt in parts, and then cutting it into 5cm squares and serving while still hot, with pepper. I will try this method next time, because frying pancakes has its tense moments, but I was after the floppy cone experience this time.

And yes it did bring back those holiday memories, on a sunny British winter lunchtime. Lovely just naked, plain and simple, but I note that there are a number of suggestions, from various parts of the world, on offer if you search for “chick pea pancake”, the only limit being the horizons of your own imagination.

Salut les copains!

Beetroot and Chocolate Cake (wheat-free)

932 Beetroot Cake

“Be true to me” my father would sing in a mock romantic tenor voice when welcoming the vivid root vegetable to the table. The bold duplicitousness of this cake might however cause the most ardent admirer’s trust in the cook to wobble: it simply doesn’t taste of beetroot, but it does possess a sophisticated and complex range of flavours which are most beguiling.

I started with a recipe from a health food store magazine (beetroot earning plaudits for antioxidants, potassium, folic acid and lots more), trawled through a number of other recipes for cakes and brownies, and, having experimented with a couple of ideas, am now pleased with the smooth and moist texture of this easy-to-make version. It is wheat-free and dairy-free.


  1. Pair of rubber gloves
  2. 200g grated raw beetroot – Some recipes propose boiling or roasting the beetroot first, and then grating it or making a puree. I put on the rubber gloves, peel the raw vegetable and cut it up to fit it into the food processor, with the fine grater attached. I poke about and discard any stringy or woody bits, not least because they would give the game away in the finished cake. I make sure I have 200g of grated product, and then I put it back in the food processor, having replaced the grater attachment with the mixing blade.

At this point I attempt to make the work surface look a little less like a forensic science investigation, and I remove the rubber gloves.

Now I add all of the remaining ingredients to the food processor. If I were to mix the cake by hand I would thoroughly mix items 3 to 6 together first, gently warm and stir the sugar and treacle together, whisk the eggs together, mix the oil, liqueur and zest together, and then combine everything.

  1. 175g flour – I have been using spelt flour but wheat flour will be fine when there are no tolerance concerns.
  2. 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  3. 50g cocoa powder – I like to use Fairtrade organic cocoa.
  4. 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  5. 75g sugar – The browner the sugar the deeper the flavour – I like Fairtade muscovado sugar, although it demands attentive mixing to achieve full amalgamation.
  6. 75g black treacle – Having recently borrowed, for a chocolate sponge cake, the whizzo idea from of substituting some treacle for some of the sugar, I am hooked on the treacle/chocolate combination, and here it seems both to mask and to complement the earthiness of the beetroot, in rather a cunning fashion.
  7. 3 eggs
  8. 200ml oil – Sunflower oil or rapeseed oil, for example.
  9. Grated zest of 1 orange – After scrubbing it to remove any preservatives.
  10. 1 tablespoon of orange liqueur

The combined mixture will look decidedly peculiar, but after about 45 minutes in a greased 20cm cake tin at about 170 degrees in a fan oven (you’ll need to rely on your experience with your own oven) something truly beetreautiful emerges. I invert it to get a nice level top, which can be dusted with icing sugar before serving. I feel that icing or frosting would interfere with the high-end bitter-chocolate vibe, but the cake would make a scrumptious dessert served warm, with good Madagascan vanilla ice cream, or with whipped cream flavoured with orange liqueur, or with creme fraiche, and then dusted with cocoa powder, or scattered with shavings of the darkest chocolate.

Another recipe I noted had coffee granules (which would replace the orange zest) and coffee (instead of orange) liqueur, which I will try, and I am further toying with the notion of chopped tea-soaked prunes or dates.


Cooking Squash

856 Squashes

Ten quid well spent for a cardboard box laden with these squashes, tenderly nurtured in a local smallholding, followed by an outlay of quite some thought given to each of the meals they have furnished.

We have baked them whole, standing in a dish of water, either stuffed or filled later (chopped black pudding cooked with red onion went down well), included them in risotto, and roasted them in wedges with rosemary and bacon, but the favourite outcome this autumn has been the pilaf, based on 250g of rice (for four people) and 600ml of stock. Risotto rice maintains its identity under these conditions. In particular, the Spanish paella rice which I have been using recently has been ideal. I start off slowly cooking a finely chopped onion or leek, and maybe some garlic. When these are soft I add all the rice and hot stock, stir in small cubes of pumpkin, and a selection of spices and herbs, bring everything to the boil, cover and simmer on a low heat for about 20 minutes.

I often treat recipes as guidelines rather than prescriptions, and have a preference for short lists of ingredients. I like to read a few recipes and then make my own way.

For one of the pilafs I put chopped chorizo in with the onion. Risotto and pilaf sometimes suffer from monochromaticity, which can be relieved by the addition of frozen peas about half way through or a liberal sprinkling of chopped spring onion, or fresh herbs from the garden, over the finished dish. One of my experimental versions leaned towards the eastern Mediterranean with cinnamon and nutmeg and thyme, and another went further south with turmeric and paprika.

Since the time it would take to peel a raw pumpkin could be passed more enjoyably reading a couple of New York Review of Books blog posts, if there is no kitchen slave available and willing to be harnessed, I steam or roast the well-scrubbed pumpkin cut into half or wedges, after which the skin comes away easily, or, in the case of a small tender squash, can be eaten with the flesh.

The box is empty but the ideas keep on coming …

Crab Apple and Rosemary Jelly

851 Crab Apple Jelly

My kind friend saved these wind-fallen crab apples from her husband’s lawnmower. I cut them into quarters and put 4lbs into a pan, including the stalks and pips – the whole shebang. I like to work with 4lbs of fruit for this kind of jelly* so that I can know approximately how long it will take to set and how many jars I am likely to need , although it varies according to the type of fruit and its ripeness. I shook the raindrops from half a dozen stalks of rosemary from my garden to add to the pan, aiming for a subtle rosemary infusion rather than a strong flavour that could interfere with the rich sweet tartness of these wild apples. I barely covered the fruit with water and cooked it gently for about an hour, and then I strained it overnight through a jelly bag.

I poured the beautiful clear amber juice into the preserving pan with one pound of preserving sugar per pint of juice, pro rata, managing to extract three and a half pints for this batch. Any type of sugar works but “preserving” sugar dissolves easily. I dissolved the sugar in the juice and brought the mixture to a rolling boil. It took about a quarter of an hour to reach setting point, which I tested by putting a half teaspoonful on a saucer chilled in the freezer and pushing it with a finger. When the surface of the blob wrinkled it meant it was setting.

I ladled the jelly into sterilised jars and pushed a small sprig of rosemary into each one. This was tricky because the sprig wants to rise to the top but there is an optimum moment when the jelly is cooling and becoming firmer, and won’t let go of a pushed-down sprig, but hasn’t solidified to a point where the sprig will spoil the smooth texture. The covers are circles cut from a lovely, fabric-like, hand-made, Indian wrapping paper from the Fair Trade shop.

There were sufficient crab apples to make a second batch of jelly. This time I scrubbed and sliced 2 unwaxed lemons and added them to the pan of quartered apples to make a gorgeous Lemony Crab Apple Jelly. The yield from this batch was lower due to operator error during the straining process – the wrong knot tying the jelly bag to the kitchen cupboard door handle resulted in the bag of fruit collapsing into the juice receptacle and spilling a good half pint of juice. In my mind I heard faint hoots of derision from my brothers, knot-certificated Sea Scouts long ago when scouting was not for girls.

*a note for US readers: here in the UK “jelly” is used to describe only clear preserves made from strained fruit and “jam” is a preserve where you can see the fruit.

PS I took a pot of the Crab Apple and Rosemary Jelly into the White Stuff shop in Leamington Spa and it has won the local heat of their “Top of the Pots” preserves competition!