Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Spanish St. James Day Almond Tart, July 25th, (Tarta de Santiago)

I duck swiftly as a very large silver object comes flying in my direction--it fortunately missed my head by a few inches! Its pendulum swing sends it violently back and forth like a metallic pinata; it is propelled by a rope pulled by several men huddled in a circle. A minute later, when it has lost momentum, a man tugs it by spinning around it like a ring game. It finally stops, and a crowd of people claps. They have been watching an 60-kg incense burner being moved by seven priests in a medieval cathedral, in the town of Santiago de Compostela.

Along with Jerusalem and Rome, Santiago de Compostela was one of the three major pilgrimage destinations during the Middle Ages in Europe. Pilgrims believe that it is the burial site of the apostle St. James, who came to Spain to convert the population to Christianity. Spaniards believe that Santiago, their patron saint, protects their country in times of need. Today, pilgrims from Spain and far away countries visit Galicia to walk on the Santiago de Compostela road, or the way of St. James, for weeks. There are several routes. The most difficult but reknowned one, the "French route", begins in St. Jean-Pied-du-Port, in the French side of the Pyrenees mountains, a few miles from the Spanish border. The other three start in Spain, Portugal, and England.  Most of the walkers are Catholic, but some of them are not; they nonetheless look forward to a spiritual experience. Their destination will be the Santiago de Compostela cathedral. They wearily stop at small hostals at night to rest and recuperate, as the following day they will be busy, walking again.
Galicia is located to the north of Portugal, and is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Cantabrian Ocean. To the east, it borders the Spanish regions of Asturias, Leon and Zamora.

Santiago Tart, or St. James Tart
The Santiago tart, or St. James Tart, is a dessert from the Spanish region of Galicia, and can be found in bakeries in July and the beginning of August, because St. James Day is on July 25th. This dessert was made at least as early as 1577. The first written recipe was recorded in 1838, and the St. James' cross figure decoration on the cake was started in 1924. Six years ago, this regional dessert was officially protected by the government, much like wine and cheese are; it has its own denomination of origin.
This luscious almond tart can be eaten with milk or a sweet wine. It is one of many Spanish desserts that use just the right amount of lime zest to flavor the batter.

1/2 kilogram of ground almonds
1/2 kilogram of sugar
7 eggs
100 grams butter
150 grams flour
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 cup of sweet sherry
50 grams powdered sugar
Mix one egg, butter, flour, and water to make the dough that you will spread out thinly in a round pan. Stir the ground almonds, sugar, cinnamon, sherry, and eggs. Spread over the dough and place in the oven at 325 degrees for an hour, until it is cooked. Take it out of the oven, cool, then sift powdered sugar on top of it. Place a template of the St. James Cross or the emblematic seashell on top of the cake, in the center, before sprinkling the sugar on top; this way, the design will appear when you remove the template. The following link has a template:

References 360 degree view of cathedrals

Monday, July 23, 2012

White Milk Candy Sticks (Canillitas) from Antigua Guatemala, July 25, Fiesta Santiago

Massive stone walls that are semi destroyed, and run over with vines and grass, welcome visitors in Antigua. Spacious buildings with Spanish colonial architecture, boast harmonious arches. Tall churches and peaceful cloisters that used to be inhabited by Catholic nuns are sprinkled throughout the venerated city. Many of these nuns must have brought or concocted the recipes for candy that is still sold today.

"What would you like me to bring back from Antigua Guatemala? "Canillitas (Milk Candy).." is always the reply I get or make. The white version of these candies are probably one of the most popular souvenirs, and are quite different from the brown-colored dulce de leche that is available around much of Latin America. One of the most famous candy stores that sells these sugary candies that melt in your mouth is called Dona Maria Gordillo, and most of the stores are family-owned, and use recipes that have been passed down from one generation to the next.

Santiago Festivities in Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
Canillitas are sold for special occasions, such as religious festivities (such as Easter) or in fairs, or in certain towns such as Antigua Guatemala or Sololá. One of Antigua Guatemala's festivities is on July 25th, when it celebrates the Fiesta de Santiago, its patron saint. The old city of Guatemala, protected by UNESCO since 1979, was named Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, (Santiago of the Knights of Guatemala) not Antigua Guatemala, its current nickname. It was founded in 1524, but had to be rebuilt for a third time in 1566, after two catastrophes. It was the capital of Central America, but its glory ended when two strong earthquakes destroyed it on July 29, 1773. Hence its current name, Old Guatemala. The capital city was thus rebuilt in its current location, which lies 40 km away. 


The dough is molded into different shapes. The candymakers in Guatemala use ceramic molds to make small roses and angels and leaves, as you can see from the picture above. I used Guatemalan ceramic molds to make most, and made the larger rose by hand. This method for making the candy is clearly not the original recipe used more than a hundred years ago. Nonetheless, it gives similar results.

Coming up Next
Santiago Tart, from the Spanish region of Galicia
Thai Mango Sticky Rice
Philippine Mango Float
Salvadorean Pastelillos de Leche


Monday, July 16, 2012

Italian/Sicilian Cannoli on the Freedom Trail, in Boston

I quickly stepped inside the brown-gray wooden home with diamond-shaped glass windows built in 1680, to stand in front of the small hearth and warm my hands after having walked for long out in the cold. I found fruit and bread on the table, which helped me feel welcome in the austere and humble abode. Paul Revere wasn't there, so he might have been showing people his engraving of the Boston Massacre, or maybe he left on an emergency horseride to send a message to John Hancock and Samuel Adams.
I was in the Paul Revere historical home in Boston. However, it is 2012, even if for a moment I almost believed I had travelled in time to 1775.
You might not associate cannolis with the Fourth of July, but in Boston there is definitely a geographical connection.Many advise to begin the freedom trail walk in this city, in Little Italy, or the North End, where the most popular dessert is the Sicilian cannolo or cannoli. This delectable dessert is satisfying thanks to its wholesome ricotta filling. Right next to this part of town, you will find Paul Revere's home (where he lived for more than 30 years), reminiscent of Shakespearean buildings. The community was predominantly Jewish and later Irish only a few years before the Italians became the largest group in the neighborhood in the 1900's; today they still constitute 40% of the population. 

History of the Cannoli
Cannoli comes from the word canna, which means reed, after the tubular shape. It originated in Palermo, Sicily, and was often eaten during Mardi Gras season, before Lent. Whereas some people believe that the pastry appeared during the Arab rule in Sicily (827-1091) and was thus an Arab confection, others declare that the dessert was created by nuns, in a convent in Palermo. Still others believe that it was an Arab confection served in harems, and taken to convents when some Muslim women converted to Catholicism. Many years later, when Italians who lived abroad weren't able to get ricotta easily, they sometimes placed a custard filling in cannoli instead.
Cannoli are eaten widely during the Italian summer feasts that take place in Boston. The largest Italian feast in New England, St. Anthony's Feast, takes place from August 23-25.
This pastry is golden in more ways than one--some people might even accept it as currency! On a wintry and windy night in March, I had a cannoli in a labelled box with me when I asked a Boston street vendor how much a hat would cost. "$5, but I would be willing to trade it for your cannoli!" the vendor grinned, eyeing the pastry.

Recipe (Italy the Beautiful Cookbook, Lorenza de Medici)
10 oz. ricotta
1 cup sugar
3 oz. chopped mixed candied fruit
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup white wine
2 tablespoons honey
pinch of salt 
1 egg
1 egg white
confectioner's sugar
Mix the ricotta, 1/2 cup of sugar, the candied peel, and place in the refrigerator.

Pour the wine into the flour in a bowl. Add honey, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, egg, and egg white. Knead and shape into a ball, and refrigerate. Roll dough out and cut into 4-inch squares. Wrap around the metal cannoli cylinders and seal them closed.

Fry the dough in the tubes until golden brown.

Remove from oil and slide the cannolis off the tubes. Place the ricotta filling in a pastry bag, and squeeze into the cannoli shells. Sprinkle the filled shells with powdered sugar and serve!
Italy the Beautiful Cookbook, Medici, Lorenza de; 1996. Sydney: Harper Collins.,bechamel-sauce-from-lorenza-de-medici.html

Saturday, July 14, 2012

French Baba au Rhum, on July 14th or Bastille Day

A sleek, black and blue vehicle emerges from a platform like a Batmobile prancing across a screen, accompanied by music in a movie. Giant silver bullets with motors and doors lie peacefully, as metallic, prehistorically sized insects prowl nearby. The batmobile is one of 140 Bugatti automobiles from a 600-car collection in Mulhouse, Alsace--a National Automobile Museum. (Take a virtual tour by clicking on this link: It is in this French region Alsace Lorraine, where the baba au rhum dessert, now eaten all over France, originated. Some of Lorraine's attractions include the largest U.S. World War I cemetery outside of the United States, the birthplace of Joan d'Arc, and the Stanislas plaza in Nancy,where the polish king took over the duchy of Lorraine for a period of time.The first baba au rhum I tried was in a French airport. The miniature cylinder was brown in color, didn't have whipped cream, and was liberally soaked in a delectable rum sugar syrup. 

History     The babka, or polish yeast cake was taken to Alsace/Lorraine by the exiled Polish king Stanislas, who was appointed mayor of Nancy in Lorraine by his son-in-law, King Louis XV of France. Some report that he had trouble chewing on dried kugelhopf, and thus requested that alcohol be added to the cake to make it softer. Others say that he brought back a babka from home once; it dried up, and thus his chef added wine, raisins, and cream to soften the cake. The original shape of babas is a cylinder, but after 1835, when the modern rum baba was created, a ring mold called a savarin is also the common shape used. The baba was taken to Naples by French cooks, and is known by that name. The original baba has yeast; on easy french you can find the following recipe that uses baking powder instead:

Recipe from 
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup butter
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup milk
 Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the yolks and sugar for 2 minutes. Melt butter and add to the mixture. Next, stir in the milk, baking powder, and flour. Whip the egg whites, then fold them into the mixture. Pour into a greased flanera, savarin pan,or 6-cup ring mold. (You can also pour into several small pans for individual babas). Place in oven and bake for 25 minutes.
Rum Syrup
2/3 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup rum
Mix water and sugar in pan and heat until it boils. Remove from heat, cool and stir in rum. 
When the cake is still warm, poke holes in it with a toothpick or fork. Pour the rum syrup on the cake.
Decorate with 1 to 3 cups of whipped cream, to taste, and fruit.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fourth of July Shortcakes (Sponge Cakes)

While shortcakes appeared in Europe in the 1500's, strawberry shortcake was created and eaten as early as 1847 in the United States. The original shortcake resembled a biscuit, and the strawberries were covered with icing. Gradually, it evolved to a sponge cake or angel food cake covered in whipped cream.

Sponge Cake Recipe
4 ounces butter
4 ounces sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 ounces flour
1 tablespoon milk
Whipped Cream
raspberries or strawberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla, then beat for 3 minutes. Fold in flour, then add milk. Place in 3 greased and floured Wilton mini-fill pans. Bake for 19 minutes.

a. Place strawberries and whipped cream in the sponge cake to make a Strawberry Shortcake.

b. Place raspberries and blueberries and whipped cream on the sponge cake to make a flag design.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Natillas, to celebrate yesterday's Spanish Eurocup win!

As I walked on a straight path through small maze-like gardens, I wondered what mysteries I would discover behind the strong, 900-year-old stone wall. 

Natillas, a Spanish dessert similar to English custard

The halls, which surrounded a courtyard, were fit for pacing underneath gothic arches that adorned the ceiling like morning glories. This is the type of place where natillas, a custard-like Spanish dessert, came from. Nuns preferred natillas because they were inexpensive but at the same time wholesome and nutritious. 

This Spanish cloister is located in North Miami. A few decades ago, it was purchased by the Hearst family and it was shipped to Florida, where it was reassembled, piece by piece, like a numbered puzzle. 

If you burn sugar on top, you get catalan cream!

 Natillas were brought from Spain to Latin America, where they are enjoyed in countries such as Colombia (where the ingredients were tweaked a bit), Cuba, Mexico, among others. Cubans took this treat with them to Miami, where I tasted natillas for the first time at a Cuban restaurant in North Miami Beach. 

Natillas were taken by the Spaniards to Latin America
2 cups milk
4 egg yolks
100 grams granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
zest of half a lemon
cinnamon stick
raspberry sauce
blueberries and cranberries
vanilla wafers (optional)

Heat the milk, lime zest, and cinnamon stick. Whisk the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch together. When the milk boils, pour it through a sieve into the yolk mixture, then pour it back into the pot. Cook until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Place in a metal bowl and stir over cold/ice water until it's at room temperature. Place the custard in a dish and cover it with saran wrap and set in the fridge. Adorn it with blueberries, cranberries, a fruit coulis, and even vanilla wafers.
Raspberry Sauce (Coulis)
1 cup raspberries
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
Cook the raspberries and sugar, stirring, in a pot, on low-medium heat, until the mix thickens and turns into a sauce.