Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Tarta de Santiago for the Feast of St James

Slice of Tarta de Santiago

The Feast of St James is celebrated in the Basque Country and Galicia by a public holiday on 25 July so it seems appropriate to post this piece now.  Not that the Spanish need such an excuse to bake Tarta de Santiago.  You can find it throughout Northern Spain at any time of year.  It is mostly associated with Santiago de Compostela in Galicia where the town's cathedral is reputed to hold the relics of the apostle St James the Great.  A network of pilgrim routes originating in Western European countries lead to this place of Christian pilgrimage in the north-west corner of Spain.  The trails are marked by the symbolic scallop shell for St James the Great, the fisherman apostle.  The tarta, or torta in Galician, has been offered to pilgrims as a journeys-end food for hundreds of years. 
Tarta de Santiago

Tarta de Santiago is a fragrant almond tart or cake.  Sometimes it's baked with a pastry base, other times without.  Having a long history, naturally its origins are disputed.  The splendid writer Claudia Roden believes it has its roots in a Jewish Passover cake and arrived in Galicia with jews fleeing Moorish rule in Andalusia. 

Tarta de Santiago is easily identifiable by its coating of icing sugar with a cross of St James picked out.  Some versions can be quite bland, and others too dry, but a good recipe really delivers.  This one is a adapted from a version I have enjoyed at Barrafina tapas bar in Soho.  They have more than one version and this is based on the recipe for "Santiago Tart 2010" in the cookery book 'Barrafina - a Spanish cookbook' It produces a moist, sweet tart lifted by fresh citrus and the heady quince paste.

Much as I like the idea of a version made without pastry - not least because it would be easier to make and would offer a gluten-free version - I love the contrasting textures you get from this tart.  If you want to try a recipe without a pastry base then I can think of no better authority than Claudia Roden.  Here is a link to a Guardian article for Claudia Roden's recipe for Tarta de Santiago which also appears in her new book The Food of Spain

Tarta de Santiago
(makes a shallow 23cm tart)

115g (4oz) plain flour
40g  ( oz) icing sugar
70g (2½ oz) unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg yolk

115g (4oz) membrillo (quince paste)
175g (6oz) whole blanched almonds
1 tablespoon Amaretto (optional)
Zest of 2 oranges & zest of 2 lemons
Juice of 1 orange & 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
80g (3oz) icing sugar
150g (5½ oz) softened unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg

For the pastry, mix icing sugar and flour.  Rub in the butter until the mix resembles breadcrumbs.  Stir in the egg yolk until the mixture comes together  (add a few drops of milk if the mix doesn't come together).  Use your hands briefly to form it into a ball then wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan).  Lightly butter the 23cm shallow tart tin and dust with flour.  Lightly flour a worksurface and roll the pastry thinly into a round a little larger than the tin.  Place in the tin with the edges overlapping  (don't worry if the pastry breaks up, just patch it in but do keep it thin).  Line with greaseproof paper, weight down with baking beans and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for a few more minutes if the base is not cooked.    Trim off the excess pastry to neat edges and turn the oven down to 140C (130C fan).

Melt the membrillo with 1 tablespoon of water in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Spread it over the tart base. 

Pulse the almonds, zest, juices and Amaretto (if using) in a food processor until mixed but fairly chunky.  Mix the soft butter and icing sugar until creamy.  Add the almonds and mix in well.  Mix in the egg yolks then the whole egg.  Spoon the mixture into the pastry case and bake for about 35 minutes.  Allow to cool before turning out.  *Dust with icing sugar and serve. 

* A template for the cross of St James can be downloaded from the internet if you would like to have this symbol on your tart.  Cut out, place in the centre of the tart, dust with icing sugar and carefully remove the template.