Pilgrimage to Santiago

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is the...

Español: Tarta de Santiago

It was my mother’s birthday recently, and she being someone who enjoys the trappings of religion but is very much of the “Lord make me good, but not yet,” ‘I intend to die a Catholic, though I never could live as one” school of thought, I thought I’d make her a pseudo-Catholic birthday cake. The Tarta de Santiago is a flourless cake make of egg yolks and almonds that’s given to pilgrims who have walked the Way of St. James, the pilgrimage across the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. I’m not sure why you’d want almond cake after hiking hundreds of miles. I did a walking tour of the Ridgeway in southern England a few years ago, and after hiking twenty miles I’d have said fuck the cake, unless it’s heroin cake, in which case stick it straight into my veins. In any case, the Tarta de Santiago is a really good cake. It’s fluffy and moist and it makes your house smell like heaven while it’s baking. Traditionally, a cut-out of the St. James cross is placed on the cake and the cake is then dusted with powdered sugar and the cut-out removed. This I did not do. Much as I love authenticity, I’ve never been one for arts and crafts.

I served it with a saffron coconut ice cream. A very adult tasting ice cream, and by adult I mean it tastes pretty damned weird. Far from sweet, it’s borderline savory. Its complexity makes you pause and think about the nature of existence between bites. It is philosophical ice cream. It’s extremely good, of course, but its profundity and sophistication may make you long for the Rocky Road of your childhood.

Tarta de Santiago

(Adapted from The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden)

1 ¾ cups almond flour

6 eggs, separated at room temperature

1 ¼ cups superfine sugar

Zest of 1 orange

Zest of 1 lemon

¼ teaspoon almond extract

Confectioners’ sugar

1.) Beat together eggs yolks with sugar until you create a smooth, creamy mixture. Beat in zests and extract. Add almond flour and mix.

2.) In a separate bowl with clean beaters, beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold into egg and almond mixture and mix together until fully integrated (this will take some doing as the mixture will be thick.)

3.) Grease and flour an 11-inch springform pan. Pour in batter and bake for 40 minutes to an hour, or until the cake feels firm. Allow to cool before removing sides of pan. Dust with Confectioners’ sugar before serving.

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Saffron Coconut Ice Cream

(Adapted from David Lebovitz)

While I realize saffron is pretty expensive stuff and this recipe calls for a full half teaspoon and not the usual scanty pinch, honestly how often do you use the stuff? My saffron goes untouched for months at a time. It was a relief to dump the whole thing in a pot of cream. Remember, saffron isn’t good at sticking to the ice cream so when transferring it between containers, you may have to spend a few persnickety minutes dabbing at the threads that have stuck to the sides of the pan and transferring them one by one. An irritating job, but believe me this ice cream is worth it.

This recipe also calls for palm sugar. My local green grocer happened to have some. It’s brown and crumbly and tastes, well, coconutty. I made a ginger lemon iced tea the other week and sweetened it with a simple syrup made from palm sugar and it was amazing.

2/3-cup heavy cream.

1-cup coconut milk

¼ cup palm sugar

½ teaspoon saffron threads

1.)   Bring all ingredients to boil in a saucepan. Simmer ten minutes, stirring from time to time. Remove from heat and chill at least 3 hours.

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2.)   Chill in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

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Photo Credits: Wikipedia.

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