Lent has just passed and along with it, the quiet in our souls, waiting with baited breathe for the risen Lord. The somber yet peaceful Holy Week is one that I look forward to every year. The preparation and waiting are almost as glorious as the feast and celebration to come. With it, will be almond cake in the form of a Tarta Santiago. More on that soon.
Our Easter dinner was Italian inspired, most of the recipes from my nona and papa’s recipe box. We began with some savory olives, peppers, cheese and marinated mushroom and nibbled them with some lemony sparkling prosecco. The first course was our family’s scrapels w/chicken broth made by my sister Sarah (rolled parmesan crepes for the non-Ligurian), oil and vinegar salad with garbanzo beans and olives, fresh Italian bread and roasted spring asparagus. By now we were pretty full, but the best is yet to come!
The main pasta course was to be served with a little red vino with my grandpa’s sauce which came out perfectly sweet and tender meatballs rolled by my sister Elaine’s hands. But lest you think our meal was perfect as all is in blog world, I will let you in on a secret…our gnocchi fell apart in the water! Ahhhhh. I hedged on the side of too little flour, not wanting them rubbery but in our two hour pre-Easter vigil rush to roll and flash freeze, they failed in the boil. All the better to test the recipe out more, right!? And thankfully Rizzo’s frozen gnocchi saved the day. It happens. I thank my papa (James, ironically), for saving the day from above. 😉
Luckily we had time while running out to the store to digest and save room for both the pasta and a little fruit and Tarta Santiago (the most delicious almond cake ever) with Vanilla Gelato. I am still stuffed full. So all’s well that ends well.
Wait? Tarta Santiago doesn’t sound Italian? Well, almond cake does. Well, this was my secret Spanish slip-in.
I really wanted to share one of my favorite desserts from the Camino Santiago with my family. Rich, dense and just lightly nuanced with some citrus zest, the Tarta Santiago almond cake is perfect for a celebratory dessert as it is for breakfast. On the camino, once you reached Galicia, you could have it for both.
The history of the Tarta Santiago has been speculated to come from the regions Jewish migration, as it requires no levening, it was perfect Passover cake. It is also naturally gluten-free. The cake’s recipe is a winner, and pretty close to the rigid proportions that have been certified by the state for the tarta Santiago, minus being made in the Autonomous Region of Galicia of course. This is a recipe rich with history. The EU gave the tarta PGI status and if you are really into history, that link goes to the legal document and all the fascinating details of this cake in Celtic Galicia. We are not in Galicia of course, so regardless, we are rogue tarta makers here, but this recipe has the requisite heavy proportion of almonds. It is an almond cake after all.
Wether you have done the camino or not, this almond cake is wonderful the day of baking, but even better 1 or 2 days later. The flavors settle and meld together like any good cake or bread. In fact, just like my banana bread, I threw it in a sealed large Ziploc bag in the freezer while it cooled and I swear this is the key to having extra moisture in your breads and cakes. Try it out both ways and see for yourself. This is my ultimate secret and now you know it. Enjoy.
- 1/2 pound blanched almond meal (about 1 3/4 cups)
- 6 large eggs, separated
- 1 1/4 cups fine white sugar
- Grated zest of 1 orange
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1/4 tsp almond extract
- Confectioners' sugar for dusting, almond slices of you wish
- Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until they form a smooth pale cream.
- Beat in the zests and almond extract.
- Add the ground almond meal and fold in until combined.
- With clean beaters, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. Gently fold them into the egg and almond mixture, which is quite thick at this point. Fold until combined.
- Grease an 11-inch springform pan, preferably nonstick, with butter.
- Pour in the cake batter, and bake into a preheated oven at 350°F for 40 minutes, or until it feels firm to the touch and a toothpick comes out clean.
- Cool cake before releasing cake from the pan.
- Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with confectioners' sugar. Or, if you like, cut a St. James cross out of paper. Place it in the middle of the cake, and dust the cake with confectioners' sugar, then remove the cross. Almonds on top are not traditional but it was Easter so I used them to take this cake from humble to elegant.
Want to read more on this mysterious Camino? Here is my first post on the Camino de Santiago.
Recipe adapted from: