The Tarta de Santiago, a naturally gluten-free Spanish almond cake, is a very traditional Spanish dessert originating from the town of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.
Making this cake was a request from my daddy. He grew up in Spain, where this cake is very common and he requested I bake him this memory. I was very curious to try it as a friend of mine from the flamenco studio where I took lessons in California had also recently completed a portion of the Camino de Santiago and this cake is one she would have seen in countless bakery windows along the way. Besides, almond and citrus just make such a beautiful flavor combination, so the dessert is not just a beautiful way to bring a little Spanish sweetness to your table, it’s also incredibly delicious!
The Tarta de Santiago is so classically Spanish in fact, that it was granted a Protected Geographical Indication in 2006. This means that the government set out regulations as to the recipe and location of origin from which a St. James Cake could originate in commerce to be marked as “authentic.” In its purest form, the cake is an almost even ratio of almonds, eggs, and sugar. It doesn’t always need to have the cross of Saint James decoration on top, in fact, it wasn’t added until 1924, but it has become an almost universally added decoration, so I always include it. I make my stencil by printing an outline of the cross of Saint James, cutting it out, and placing it on the cake before dusting on my powdered sugar.
For a lighter texture, I whip the egg whites. Many Tarta de Santiago recipes nowadays do include steps for whipping the whites to create a lighter cake, although it’s believed the “original” recipe just mixed the eggs whole and was very dense. I also add fresh orange zest and a bit of flavoring, which is optional, but I find that it really makes the cake special. In lieu of orange zest you may also try lemon or even grapefruit, and feel free to substitute a vanilla bean for the vanilla extract. These are absolutely modifications from the classic recipe, but the overall ratios for an authentic Tarta de Santiago are there.
I hope you enjoy this beautiful Spanish cake. It’s a lovely gluten free dessert that’s most often served during July for the Feast of Saint James, but is equally appropriate any other time of the year as a dessert or tea cake. Buen provecho, darlings!
- 2⅓ cups (228 g) almond meal
- 6 eggs, separated
- zest of 1 orange
- 2 tablespoons amaretto liquor or 1 tsp almond extract and 1 tbsp fresh orange juice
- 1 cup (213 g) brown sugar, packed
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- powdered sugar for decorating
- Preheat your oven to 350 F. Butter and line a 9" springform pan with parchment paper, set aside.
- Beat the egg yolk and sugar together in a mixing bowl, by hand. Stir in almond meal, extracts, and zest.
- In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites to stiff peaks.
- Fold the whites into the yolk mixture. Stir in about ¼ cup first to lighten the yolk mixture, then fold in the rest of the whites.
- Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack, then decorate before serving.