When I was growing up, this cake was an ever present confection in the display windows of every pastry shop in Madrid. The Tarta de Santiago or Pastel de Santiago, is a very traditional cake in Spain and, although popular everywhere, it originates in the Northern region of Galicia.
Almonds are a key ingredient in Spanish cuisine, and all year round you can find cakes, pastries and even savory dishes with almonds as their main ingredient. There is a definite love of everything almond going on all over the country.
The recipe is very old, with a recorded version from 1577 being the earliest mention of such cake. The name comes from Santiago (St. James) who is the patron saint of Spain. Every saint seems to have a special pastry dedicated to him or her, and Santiago has the most famous of all.
Of course, there are variations to the original recipe and my version is slightly different from the original in that I don’t use granulated sugar, but rather blue agave. It yields a moist and flavorful, airy cake. No matter your preference when it comes to sweetener (you can even use stevia ), the essential aspect of this cake is its distinct almond flavor. I think that it just tastes like Christmas. It has a mild, delicate flavor reminiscent of toasted marzipan and a lovely, crumbly texture that holds up to liquids should you choose to have coffee with it.
A nutritious cake for everyone, with a moderate Glycemic Index (if you make it with agave or stevia) and not a smidgeon of grain to be found in it. A fantastic treat for Celiacs: they will ask you to make Pastel de Santiago again & again…and why not?
5 cups of almond meal
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbs lemon zest
2/3 cup blue agave
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 tsp Amaretto liquor
1 tsp of butter
2-3 Tbs confectioners sugar (without cornstarch)
Preheat your oven to 350°. In a large bowl mix the almond meal with the cinnamon and the finely grated lemon zest. Use a different bowl to beat the eggs with the almond extract, Amaretto liquor and blue agave sweetener. Beat until fluffy and gradually incorporate the almond mixture to the eggs. Your batter should be smooth and have the consistency of a thick pancake batter. Prepare a 10 inch round pie dish (circular is the traditional shape) by spreading butter over the bottom and sides. Pour the batter and bake for 40 to 50 minutes depending on your oven. This cake rises only slightly. It will be done when the edges appear golden and the center is solid to the touch.
Traditionally (albeit optional) the cake is decorated with a cross of St. James (Cruz de la Orden de Santiago). You can simply cut one out of cardboard and place it over the cool cake. Sprinkle the powdered sugar over the surface and carefully remove the paper cross. Quite fancy, I know, but I think it is well worth the effort.