The Key to a Tarta de Santiago

It might look easy, but only practiced hands and the right mix of top-quality ingredients can produce an authentic Tarta de Santiago (Spanish Almond Cake)

By Regional Government of Galicia

Santiago cake made by Tartas La Abuela (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Out of all the sweet treats travelers get to taste along the Camino, the historic Tarta de Santiago is the most popular and tastes the best. This almond cake does not contain flour, which distinguishes it from other similar cakes.

Pazo de Mariñán (2013)Original Source: Axencia Turismo de Galicia

The first written record of this cake is from 1577, in which it was called the Royal Torte (Torta Real). The cake is thought to have originated in wealthy households in the 16th and 17th centuries, when families wanted to incorporate exotic ingredients like almonds and sugar into their cuisine. It was a symbol of their wealth and power that served the dual purpose of honoring and impressing guests.

Cea bread, Galician bread and Santiago cake (2020)Original Source: Axencia Galega da Calidade Alimentaria

Since 2006, the method of making this cake has been regulated and safeguarded with a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) mark as Tarta de Santiago.

Santiago cake made by Tartas La Abuela (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

To learn how to make a good Tarta de Santiago, we will follow the method of the bakery "Tarta de la Abuela". This bakery follows the PGI regulation to make a moist, aromatic, and flavorful cake. Let's go through the key steps.

Santiago cake made by Tartas La Abuela (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Ingredients

The Tarta de Santiago can be served in two ways: lined (forrada), i.e., with a pastry base, or without a base. The one from "Tarta de la Abuela" is lined with shortcrust pastry, so in the ingredients we will distinguish two parts: the filling and the lining. For the filling they use:

33% sugar

33% eggs

33% almonds (Watch out! Do not buy just any type of almonds. Mediterranean ones are best as they contain more fat than the ones available in the store, so they result in a moister cake)

and a dash of Moscatel wine.

For a 9-inch (23 cm) cake tin, you will need:
- 1/3 cup sugar (175 g)
- approximately 3 eggs (175 g)
- 1 1/4 cup almonds (175 g)
- 1/4 fl oz (8 ml) Moscatel wine.

For the shortcrust pastry, you will need another 9-inch (23 cm) cake tin and the following ingredients:
- 1/4 cup (55 g) butter
- 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp (100 g) wheat flour
- 1/8 cup (10 g) ground almonds
- 1 egg.

Santiago cake made by Tartas La Abuela (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Method

The first step is to line the cake with shortcrust pastry. In "Tartas de la Abuela" bakery they use an electric mixer for the mixing and kneading process. Do this at home until you get an evenly mixed dough. Using a round, shallow cake tin, roll out the dough, and place it in the bottom of the tin. Poke a few holes in the dough with a fork.

Santiago cake made by Tartas La Abuela (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

The next step is the cake batter. Chop the almonds into small pieces, without grinding them completely. Beat in the whole eggs. Mix by hand to make sure the almonds do not dissolve completely. This will give the cake a spongy and granulated texture.

Santiago cake made by Tartas La Abuela (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Now fill the cake tin. Pour the batter into the cake tin and carefully spread with your hand until it has almost reached the sides. It is now ready to go into the oven.

Santiago cake made by Tartas La Abuela (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Though every oven is different, in "Tarta de la Abuela" usually baked the cake at 320ºF (160ºC) for 38 to 40 minutes.

Santiago cake made by Tartas La Abuela (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

The cake is ready to be taken out of the oven once it has turned a golden brown. Be careful not to leave it in the oven too long, or it will dry out. Now for the final touch.

Santiago cake made by Tartas La Abuela (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Presentation

Nearly a century ago, the compostelan pastry chef José Mora Soto introduced the new idea of branding the Tarta de Santiago with the Cross of St. James. Hold a cut-out of the cross over the cake and sprinkle icing sugar over it.

Santiago cake made by Tartas La Abuela (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Once you take away the cross, the cake will be left with the symbol that links it so closely to Santiago de Compostela. The result is a cake that is loved as much in Galicia as it is by the pilgrims who discover it on their Camino.

Credits: All media
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