Tarta de Santiago is an almond cake from Spain that couldn’t be easier to make. It’s naturally gluten free, with a little brightness from lemon and lovely sweet, soft texture. Great for coffee time or dessert.
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Many people who travel to Spain either just head to a beach town or if they go to a city, visit Barcelona or maybe Madrid. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of those (I lived in Madrid a while and have seen my share of Spanish beaches).
However Spain has so many more sights, experiences and flavors to enjoy around the country.
A pilgrimage destination
Santiago de Compostela in the Northwest is probably best known as the end point of the Camino de Santiago. It’s a long trail, traditionally a pilgrimage, that is said to follow the path of St John leading to the cathedral that holds a shrine to him. To be more precise, it’s more of a network of trails as you can come from a few directions.
The most popular is the “Camino Frances” which, despite the name, mainly travels across Northern Spain. It starts just over the border in France (giving it the name) and, depending on your pace, will take 5 days or more to cover the 100km.
I have memories of being in Santiago de Compostela in the square in front of the cathedral and seeing groups of people arriving. You could very clearly tell who had traveled along the trail, not just because of the boots and packs on their backs, but the sheer joy and relief at the sight of the cathedral. They’d reached their destination.
And I have to say, the cathedral was one impressive sight, whether you’d hiked the trail or not. On my couple visits, it was one of the things that I really loved about the small town, along with the covered stone colonnades and delicious food.
True, food is a big part of most of Spain, but in Galicia, where Santiago is, seafood, stews and Padron peppers are on pretty much every menu. You’ll also find a good number of bakeries selling savory pies and this traditional almond cake.
What are the origins of this cake?
While it is named after St John (Santiago), the origins of this cake are unclear. Some stories say that it was brought as an offering be a pilgrim making the Camino and was then adopted. But then, since it is said to originate in the Middle Ages, who knows.
Either way, it uses some very typical ingredients for a Spanish dessert – eggs, sugar, almonds and lemon. Cinnamon is not in all versions, but for me it’s always a good idea so I have included it.
There are two main methods of bringing these ingredients together – some mix the dry ingredients then gradually add the eggs. Others beat the eggs and sugar together then mix in the dry ingredients.
I’m not sure how much it matters, but I like beating the egg and sugar first to get a bit of air in them to help lighten the cake. I think it helps get a nice slightly chewy crust on the top.
Then you simply pour it into a prepared tin and bake. It’s that easy, my kids did the majority of the work in making this (and they did a good job devouring it once baked as well!).
Some gluten free cakes can be a bit heavy in texture, but that’s surprisingly not the case here. Particularly when there is no raising agent, it tastes unusually light. But I think that’s partly it contains a good number of eggs which add a certain amount of “lift”.
I’m sometimes tempted to reduce the level of sugar in baking, and often do, but I think this is one where you just go with the traditional proportions. It’s relatively sweet, but I think you need the sweetness for the texture and flavor.
Can you make a larger cake?
If you have ever been in Santiago, you have probably seen these cakes in all sizes in the many bakeries and restaurants around the city. I have made this on the smaller size, as it fits our family, but you can certainly make this into a bigger cake if that suits better. I see no reason why you couldn’t make it smaller as well.
Whatever size you make, just keep the same weight proportions and adjust cooking time for a larger or smaller cake. This cake is traditionally made relatively ‘flat’, so if you make it larger, make sure you also use a larger tin as far as possible.
Traditionally, you dust the cooled cake with powdered sugar (icing sugar) with a stencil of a St John’s cross on top. Then, when you take the stencil away, you are left with the cross shape. It’s a very simple, effective decoration. I drew my own stencil using various images I found online, but one that you can download to try is this one.
Tarta de Santiago is a cake you’ll find everywhere in its hometown, but its surprisingly unknown elsewhere. However for such an easy, delicious, and naturally gluten free cake that seems such a shame. Make sure you get to know it, and enjoy it often!
Try these other delicious cakes:
- Sour cream mocha cake
- French lemon yogurt cake
- Gluten free hazelnut pear cake
- Plus get more dessert recipes and Spanish recipes in the archives.
Tarta de Santiago
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup sugar 200g (caster sugar is better, if possible)
- 2 cups almond flour 200g
- 1 lemon zest ie from 1 lemon
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tbsp confectioners sugar approx, to dust (icing sugar)
- Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Line an 8 inch/20cm round cake tin with parchment on the bottom and rub the sides with a little butter.
- Crack the eggs into a bowl and add the sugar. Whisk the two together until well combined and starting to become lighter in color with a bit of air in the mixture.
- Add the ground almonds, lemon zest and cinnamon and mix until combined, but try not to overmix and get all of the air out of the mixture.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and place in the preheated oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Meanwhile, make the cross stencil, if not already prepared.
- Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool around 10-15 minutes on a cooling rack before removing the outer ring. Allow it to cool completely before placing the stencil on top of the middle then dusting some confectioners sugar over the top. Carefully remove the stencil without letting the sugar fall on the area you had covered. Slice and serve or store at room temp, covered.
Baking Bloggers May 2020: Baking of Spain
- Basque Chicken from Palatable Pastime
- Catalan Coca from A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Flan De Leche Condensada from Sneha’s Recipe
- Magdalenas (Spanish Muffins) from Tara’s Multicultural Table
- Patatas Panaderas from Karen’s Kitchen Stories
- Pescado al Horno con Gambas from Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- San Marcos Cake from Pandemonium Noshery
- Spanish Olive Oil Muffins (Magdalenas) from Faith, Hope, Love, & Luck Survive Despite a Whiskered Accomplice
- Spanish Potato Bake from Making Miracles
- Tortilla de Patatas by Sid’s Sea Palm Cooking
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline’s Cooking Amazon store.
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