Rock-a-bye Saint Baby James: Tarta de Santiago, or “St. James’ Cake”

Spanish desserts, like Spanish mains, are simple, and today’s Tarta de Santiago, or “St. James’ cake” is one example.  With roots in medieval Spain, this classic dessert hails from the Galicia region in the pilgrimage town of Santiago.  It’s really light, thanks to an egg base and devoid of butter, cream and even flour, making this perfect for anyone out there with special diets (gluten-free, dairy-free).  Served simply dusted in powdered sugar, when I tried it, I thought it’d be perfect for afternoon tea.
There are variations out there, some requiring a separate “crust’ and filling, but, a bit busy today, I went with the minimalist recipe.  It wasn’t until I had the batter in the pan that I realized it was almost exactly like a Hungarian Christmas torte that my mom makes every year. I chuckled to myself as I realized I’ve been eating almost this exact cake for years.
Here’s a tip:  You can tell when the eggs are ready by turning the bowl upside down, as illustrated below, and not ending up with a head full of eggs.
See?  Pretty neat, huh? And yes, my hand is big enough to palm a mixing bowl. I admittedly have man-hands.
Tarta de Santiago
Serves 8
Gluten-free almond based sponge cake
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  1. 6 eggs, separated
  2. 1 cup sugar
  3. 1 cup almond meal
  4. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  5. 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  6. 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  7. powdered sugar for decorating the top
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Separate out the eggs and beat the whites until stiff.
  3. In another bowl, beat the egg yolks, vanilla, sugar and lemon until the mixture is pale, light and fluffy. Add the almonds and cinnamon.
  4. Gently fold the egg whites into the yolks little by little, careful not to deflate the whites too much.
  5. Pour into 2 8-inch layer pans or one large spring-form pan (which is what I did). Bake for 45 minutes until tester comes out clean.
  6. Cool for about 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and let cool complete. Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar, leaving a cross design if desired.
  1. I topped mine with sweetened whipped cream, and it was good. Very good.
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  1. Almond-y in the way of almond extract? No. I don’t like the flavor of almond extract, so never use it. It tastes nutty if that’s what you mean. If you want to stop by tomorrow, I will bring you a piece.

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