Sunday, April 21, 2013

Galician Almond Tart - Tarta de Santiago (Galicische Mandeltorte)

Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain is rather famous for being an important destination for religious pilgrims. But Galicia also has its own incredibly delicious tart. Santiago de Compostela gives its name to the almond and lemon tart called Galician Almond Tart or Tarta de Santiago (literally meaning cake of St. James).

The first documented reference dates back to 1577 when Pedro de Porto Carrero visited the University of Santiago. It was a similar recipe but the name was different then, it was called Torta Real, which means Royal Cake.

However it seems like it was not  until the 20th century that the Tarta de Santiago became knownn outside of Galicia. It gained fame thanks to Saint James' Way, which is the pilgramage to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The pilgrims on this route must have really enjoyed a slice of this tasty Spanish cake after their long journey and upon returning home, are likely to have told their family and friends about it. To this day, the cake is most commonly eaten throughout the month of July as well as the first week of August as the Santiago the Apostle's day is celebrated on the 25th of July.

It is a delightful, light dessert that is relatively easy to make. As mentioned above, the recipe dates back to the middle ages and although there are many subtle variations such as adding orange zest instead of lemon zest, the basic filling of almonds, sugar and eggs has remained unchanged over the years.

Pilgrims and tourists who visit the great Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, where the relics of the apostle Saint James are believed to be buried, see the cake in the windows of every pastry shop and restaurant. This wonderful almond tart is traditionally presented by sifting icing sugar…

over a template…

… to reveal the Cross of the Order of Santiago (cruz de Santiago) which gives the tart its Galician name.

The sign of the cross that decorates the top of the tart did not appear until 1924, when Jose Mora Soto from Santiago de Compostela decorated his cakes with the silhouette of Saint James' cross. According to his descendants, he was looking to give the traditional product a different touch. This idea was proved to be so successful that it was copied by other Compostelan pastrycooks and spread throughout the whole of Galicia.

The cake can be baked in many sizes, big and small, thin and thick, over a pastry tart base or without a base.

In Santiago de Compostela it is served in a pastry shell, but the filling holds up as a cake on its own. My deliciously moist and fragrant homey version is baked with a nice shortcrust pastry base. And there is a little cinnamon added, which I think adds a nice and delicate flavor to the lemon zest and almond meal, the two main ingredients of this tart. While there is some flour in the shortcrust pastry, there is no flour in the filling, the beaten eggs provide the only raising agent.

Recipe for the Galician Almond Tart - Tarta de Santiago
(Galicische Mandeltorte)

Ingredients for the Shortcrust pastry
  • 200 grams AP (plain) flour, plus some for dusting
  • 100 grams cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 75 grams superfine (caster) sugar
  • 1 egg (L), free range or organic
  • a bit of cold water

Ingredients for the Almond Filling
  • 5 eggs (L), free range or organic
  • 300 grams superfine (caster) sugar
  • 1 lemon, organic, rind only, grated
  • 300 grams almond meal
  • one pinch ground cinnamon

For decoration
  • some icing sugar

Equipment needed

  • tart pan with a removable bottom or springfrom pan (26 cm diameter)
  • pastry brush

Preparation of the Shortcrust pastry
  1. Pulse the flour, butter and sugar in a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  2. Mix together the beaten egg and water. With the motor still running, gradually add the egg and water mixture to the bowl of the food processor a little at a time, until the mixture comes together as a dough.
  3. Roll out the pastry onto a lightly floured work surface to form a circle about 32 cm in diameter.
  4. Carefully line a 26 cm tart pan with removable bottom or springform pan with the rolled pastry, then lightly prick (dock) the base with a fork.
  5. Transfer the tart pan to the fridge for about 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
  7. When the pastry has chilled, line the tart case with parchment paper and fill it with baking beans.
  8. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then carefully remove the paper and beans.
  9. Return the tart pan to the oven for another five minutes, or until the pastry is pale golden brown.
  10. Remove the tart pan from the oven and set aside.
  11. Reduce the oven temperature to 170 degrees Celsius.

Preparation of the Filling
  1. In a large bowl, using the whisk attachment of your mixer, whisk the eggs and sugar until pale and frothy and mixture has doubled in size (about 6 to 8 minutes).
  2. Using a large rubber spatula, carefully fold in the finely grated lemon zest, then the almond meal and cinnamon.
  3. Spoon the almond mixture into the pre-baked tart shell and smooth the top (this is best done with an offset spatula).
  4. Bake the tart in the oven for about 50 minutes or until the filling mixture has set, risen and is pale golden-brown.
  5. Transfer the tart to a cooling rack and let cool for about 15 minutes, then lift the tart from the tart pan.
  6. Let the tart cool completely.
  7. If using: cut out the pattern and place on the tart. NOTE: for the template of the Cross of St. James, please see the last picture.
  8. Dust the tart with icing sugar and serve.

This cake is great for serving with a typically Spanish style Café con Leche (coffee with milk). But of course, it also makes the perfect end to any Spanish meal. It is often also often accompanied by a glass of sweet wine or a dessert wine.

My husband had asked me for the longest time to bake this tart - once he had tasted a piece of this traditional Galician pastry while visisting Santiago de Compostela many years ago, he was a real fan. Over the years he would always tell me that this was an almondy, sweet treat with the St. James Cross gracing its top. Finally, this week, I had a chance to bake this Galician specialty and I am quite glad that I did because this is a wonderfully moist almond tart. It looks pretty when served and it is a breeze to prepare. If you want, you can even bake this tart without the shortcrust pastry. And it tastes even better the day after it was baked - as is the case with many cakes containing ground nuts.

It is also noteworthy that in May 2010, the EU gave the Tarta de Santiago the so-called PGI ( protected geographical indication) status within Europe. Meaning that to be called a true Tarta de Santiago for marketing, the entire product must be traditionally manufactured within the specific region of origin.

Following is a template of the Cross of St. James which can be used to decorate this fabulous Galician tart.

Buen Provecho!


  1. Such a simple and delicious pie Andrea! We have a great influence of spanish catholicism here, yet we don´t pay much attention to saint´s days, except for a few. This is truly a wonderful recipe!

    1. Thank you, Paula - this is such a popular cake/pie (some call it a cake, some call it a pie) in Spain but before I baked it two days ago, I had never tasted it. We loved it. It is almondy and sweet and moist and just what you would want with that afternoon coffee or tea - and it has such a lovely historical background. Gotta love food with a story!

  2. Beautiful cake and a lovely presentation. I am going to make this for Sunday's dessert.

    1. Thank you, Geraldine, if you do get a chance to bake this Galician almond tart, it would be nice to know how it turned out for you.

  3. What a beauty!!! The filling looks so moist and wonderful...I know Bill would be delighted with this cake within a shell :)

    1. Liz, this is a tart that everyone seemed to agree on when they tasted it and it is so very easy to prepare - you can even bake it without the "shell" and it will also turn out just as delicious and be even easier to bake.

  4. Such a gorgeous almond tart! I love the template too! I became a big fan of almond meal and your husband must have been so happy to finally get to eat this. :)

    1. Nami, thank you, when it comes to baking, I have been an avid fan of almond meal for the longest time, it makes the most wonderful and moist cakes, without or with the addition of flour, and it pairs so wonderfully with vanilla and cinnamon and many other fabulous ingredients.

  5. Throughout this Post I keep thinking what an education you are providing for your children through your cooking/baking and your Blog. Every ingredient (and, the result) has a facinating story and I am quite sure that you share this at the table. I have learned so much from your Posts and look forward to your history/travel/etc lesson as much as I do seeing what you've created. I have always wanted to walk the pilgramage route but have not yet been there. Thanks for bringing me a little closer to reality with this Post, Andrea.

    1. Thank you, Mary, sometime my kids get a tad bored when I tell them all about the history of a certain dish, recipe or ingredient and sometimes they just think that I am a bit too focused on the food I prepare but they have realized that they have learned so much in the last couple of years and that makes them happy, knowledgeable eaters and me a happy baker/cook. And if you ever get a chance to walk part of the St. James pilgramage route, I am sure you will be quite amazed by its wonders.