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Claudia Roden's Tarta de Santiago

“This is a splendid cake which is normally made in a wide cake or tart tin and comes out low, but it is equally good as a thicker cake. I have eaten almond cakes in other parts of Spain but this one is special” says Roden. “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 all the windows of every pastry shop and restaurant, decorated with the shape of the cross of the Order of Santiago.”

The first time I made this cake I had a bit of a disaster. I was cooking a big Spanish themed meal for friends and family and I was already running quite late. I glanced over the recipe but I didn’t read it properly and instead of putting the sugar in with the egg yolks, I put the almond meal in.

Anyone who has made a cake will know what a stupid oversight this was; if you are putting egg yolks with sugar it is with the intention of creaming them and you certainly can’t cream egg yolks and almond meal. In fact the combination made such a sticky, gluggy mess that I had to kneed them. And there was no ‘folding’ the egg whites into the mixture either, again I had to use my hands. 

Amazingly, the cake worked. It didn’t rise very well, but then as Roden explains in the introduction, it normally “comes out low” so I wasn’t expecting it to and it tasted great.

I decided to make it again for my flatmate’s birthday, as she doesn’t eat wheat. I’d like to say that I paid more attention this time, but no, it was Monday and I was tired from Jen’s birthday celebrations on the weekend, so I made another mistake. Roden says “With the cleaned mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff”. I skimmed over the word “cleaned”. It turns out there is a very good reason why she says this; you cannot get egg whites to stiffen with a dirty mixer.

Still, it seems to be an infallible recipe because the cake still worked, in fact it was better than ever. It rose well and had a lighter texture and more moisture than last time. I served it with sweetened whipped cream flavoured with Valencian orange extract, which made for a fab combination. 

Next time I make it I plan to make two cakes and layer them with the orange cream in the middle. Oh, and I plan to get it right.


250g blanched almonds
6 eggs, separated
250g caster sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
4 drops almond extract
Butter, to grease the cake tin
Flour, to dust the cake tin
Icing sugar, for dusting the cake


Grind the almonds finely in the food processor. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a pale cream with an electric mixer, then beat in the orange and lemon zests and almond extract. Add the ground almonds and mix well. 

With the cleaned mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold them into the egg and almond mixture – the mixture is so think that you need to turn it over quite a bit into the egg whites. Grease a spring form cake tin around 28cm in diameter (preferably non-stick) with butter and dust it with flour, then pour in the cake mixture.

Put the cake into an oven preheated to 180C/gas 4 for 40 minutes or until it feels firm. Let it cool before turning out. Dust the top with icing sugar. If you like, cut the shape of a Santiago cross out of paper and place it in the middle of the cake before dusting with icing sugar. Then remove the paper shape. 


  • Add 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the almond and egg mixture.
  • In Majorca, they make a similar almond cake called gato d’ametla, which is flavoured with the grated zest of 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and sometimes a few drops of vanilla extract.
  • In Navarre, they cover the cake with apricot jam.
  • My variation: whip some cream, mix in a little orange extract and icing sugar to taste. Serve on the side or use as filling for two layers

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    Reader Comments (2)

    This looks like my kind of cake. To look at it reminds me of Bretonne cake , a speciality in Brittany. I went there when I was 15, and ate it all the time.Whenever I have ben back to France and looked for it it has never tasted the same. Maybe you can do some research on it and cook me the real thing sometime :-)

    October 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMa

    Hi Ma, it looks like your Bretonne cake is in fact a normal cake (i.e. in the sense that it is made with flour not almond meal) and that the key to its deliciousness is a lot of good quality French butter. Maybe we can make it next time we visit France.

    October 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterVix

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