Tag Archives: tart

Torta de Santiago for St James’s Day

Torta de Santiago, Tarta de Santiago

In Christianity, St James, son of Zebedee, was one of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles. Western Christianity celebrates his feast day on 25 July.

Although it’s spread across the globe now, in part thanks to tourists and pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago, the chief dish for celebrating the Feast of St James is the torta de Santiago, from Galicia, northwest Spain.

Legend has it that St James’s remains are at the cathedral of Santiago de Campostela in Galicia. Iago is one of many Iberian variations on the name James, which is itself the English version of the Hebrew Jacob, Yaʿqob. In ancient Greek it became Iakobos, which was Latinised as Iacomus, which came Iacobu in Vulgar Latin, which in turn evolved into the Galician Iago – hence Santo Iago, Santiago.

Cake or tart?
Although torta (Galician, also the same in Italian), tarta (Spanish), tarte (French), torte (German) are related to the English word “tart”, in the sense of open-top fruit pies, they all derive from the Late Latin torta, possibly meaning a small bread. By Medieval Latin the word had come to mean a cake or a pie/tart. The full etymology isn’t certain, lost in the mists of time and the convolutions of Latin evolving into various different European languages. It’s salient in the case of torta de Santiago though, as it’s a product that breaks down those pie/tart/cake distinctions: it can be made with or without a pastry case.

The defining characteristic of the torta is a slightly citrusy mix of ground almond, egg and sugar. And, if you’re going for a bit of decorative iconography, a cross of St James on the top in icing sugar.

Jewish or Christian?
Claudia Roden posits the torta may have its origins in Jewish food, writing: “The Galician city of A Coruña is on the Jewish tourist route. There is a synagogue and an old Jewish quarter there. Jews from Andalusia, fleeing the Berber Almohads’ attempts to convert them, came to Galicia in the 12th and 13th centuries.”

Something related to the modern torta de Santiago may have emerged in Christian 16th century Galicia with the torta real (“royal tart”) or bizcocho de almendras (“almond cake”). A more recognisable modern incarnation is generally traced to an 1838 book by one Luis Bartolomé de Leybar, as a tarta de almendra.

The bottom line, as ever, is to take the notion of ancient traditions with a pinch of salt – so many things we like to imagine were practised fully-formed in the middle ages were instead more likely invented or at least consolidated in the 19th century.

Some versions include grape marc, aka grape pomace – ie the leftovers from pressing – which is interesting and makes sense if you have a vineyard. I don’t. The version in the Moro cookbook, meanwhile, adds membrillo (quince paste); I don’t have a quince tree either. Almonds and citrus is enough for me.

6 eggs, separated
250g caster sugar
1 lemon, zested
1 tsp orange blossom water
Almond extract, a few drops
250g ground almonds (either pre-ground or grind blanched almonds in a food processor)

Plus
Butter, for greasing
Icing sugar, for dusting cake

Torta de Santiago ingredientsZest of one lemon1. Preheat oven to 180C.
2. Grease a 25cm loose-bottom tin with butter and line with baking parchment.

Beat the egg yok and sugar until pale and creamyAdd the ground almonds

3. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a thick pale cream, ideally in a mixer or with handheld beaters.
4. Beat in the zest, orange blossom water and almond extract.
5. Beat in the ground almonds.
6. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Note – if you’re using the same beater attachments them spotlessly, as any fat will stop the whites beating properly!
7. Add a blob of the egg whites to the almond batter and beat it in. It’s a thick mixture so this is to lighten it up slightly to make it easier to add the rest of the egg whites.

Add the egg whitesTorta de Santiago batter

8. Add the rest of the egg whites and fold in. Don’t beat! You want to retain the airiness.
9. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.

Ready to bakeBaked
10. Bake for about 35-45 minutes, until the cake feels firm.
11. Let it cool in the tin then turn out.
12. Before serving, dust with icing sugar. You can cut out a cross of St James/Santiago to decorate the top. Have a look online for a shape to give you a template.

Torta de Santiago template, dusted with icing sugar

3 Comments

Filed under Cakes, Feasts, Pies & tarts, Recipes

Pastiera from Naples

slice of pastiera

So here’s another Italian sweet I need to learn how to make, as it’s my kind of thing: a light tart containing sweetened ricotta and cooked whole grains. It’s pastiera, which comes  from Naples. In fact, this one literally came from Naples – we just spent a weekend in that seething, decaying metropolis. We stayed in the centro storico, and walking one of the decumanus streets – the ancient Roman east-west thoroughfares – we spied a bakery that basically just sold pastiera, its windows full of these fab tins.

It might be a bit cutesy, and aimed in large part at tourists, old biddies etc, but Italy does have do a nice line in old-style packaging, notably for shop-bought biscuits. The biscuits might be made in an anonymous factory, but some 19th century style design on the tin makes the product strangely appealing. In this case, the tin seems to be saying “Eat pastiera while you still can – before Vesuvius blows its top again and buries us all like in Pompei, 79AD”. Well, perhaps.

Pastiera tin cu

In this case, the tarts were all made by hand in the small bakery. It was on via Benedetto Croce, near the crossroads with via San Sebastiano. The tart cost a stupid amount, considering it would only cost a few euros to buy the ingredients, but hey, the whole experience was nice. They even had a “Periodic table of the dessert” on the wall of the shop. Said niceness really counted considering our day had been a tad stressful – Naples fulfilling its remit as deeply dodgy when we encountered some pickpockets so flagrant it was almost comical on the bus. (I’ll laugh one day, but I’m still smarting slighting from my naivity and not realising that the guy I was pushing away from my dad’s pockets probably had a colleague stealthing my pocket, and getting my phone. Luckily it was a crappy old phone. And probably covered in bacteria, as such things are. I hope the thief and his fence get sick from it.)

pastiera in its tin

So, yes, anyway. Pastiera –  watching the recipe demonstration here on giallozafferano it looks like a pretty basic construction, featuring ricotta, sugar, eggs, cooked grain and candied fruits. I should try my own version at some stage as I’ve been experimenting with making peel – in this case, candying the last of the alcohol soaked kumquat zest I used in my lemon kumquat cake.

2 Comments

Filed under Pies & tarts