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

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