This simple, yet delicate, almond cake is originally from Galicia. It derives its name from the fact that it is dusted with powdered sugar using a stencil to create an imprint of the cross of St. James. A perfect accompaniment to café con leche, it also makes a lovely dessert for any meal. I first had the opportunity to try it in Portomarín, which is home to one of the largest wholesale bakeries in Spain specializing in Tarta de Santiago. While the cakes are mass produced and sold all over the country, when you eat them in Portomarín, you are guaranteed to get the freshest serving. My favorite Tarta de Santiago, however, is the “de la casa” rendition (they also serve a more economical industrial version) served at the restaurant of the Hotel Rúa Vilar right across from the old pilgrims’ office on Rúa do Vilar. I had the opportunity to meet the chef who was working there in 2011 (I believe he has since moved on) and he was kind enough to share with me the proportions of the three main ingredients: eggs, sugar and almond flour. The remaining ingredients are my additions to ensure that the best flavors come through. When I entertain large groups, I like to “supersize” the recipe. I simply double the amount of all the ingredients and use a 10-inch pan.
4 large eggs
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 ml) almond extract
Zest of one lemon, finely grated
2 cups (200 g) almond flour/meal
½ teaspoon (3 g) salt
¼ cup (30 g) powdered sugar for decorating
Position the rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C.) Line the bottom of an 8-inch (20 cm) or 9-inch (23 cm) cake or springform pan with parchment paper and set aside. The smaller pan size will yield a slightly higher cake. It is best to use a light colored baking pan as the darker pans will cause the bottom and sides of the cake to brown much faster than the top.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar with a whisk or with an electric mixer at medium speed. Continue beating until the mixture is thick and pale yellow, about 5 minutes by hand or 4 minutes with a mixer. Beat in the almond extract and lemon zest until smooth and uniform.
With a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula stir in the almond flour and salt and mix gently just until the eggs are well incorporated. Do not beat. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it gently.
Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out dry. Set the pan over a wire rack and allow to cool before unmolding.
Unmold the cake onto a serving platter. Using a stencil of the cross of St. James and a small sieve, dust with the powdered sugar. Be careful lifting the stencil as to avoid the sugar on top of the stencil falling on to the cake.