Saying thank you with cake
Happy New Year! Here's a special recipe for subscribers...
Happy New Year! So we all made it to 2022. Hurrah! As a thank you to all who’ve subscribed to this newsletter, I’m sharing a recipe for a special Spanish cake I typically make once a year. I’m including a few additional recipes as a bonus for paying subscribers. I genuinely appreciate your readership of these posts so far, and your support and encouragement, and I hope you enjoy the posts to come in 2022.
What is that gorgeous, mouth-watering vision in the photo, you ask? This is a tarta de Santiago, a Spanish almond cake that’s easy to make and light and flavorful. It’s a cake regional to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, the end point of the Camino de Santiago. The Camino de Santiago is an old pilgrimage route to the tomb of St. James the Apostle, whose body supposedly made it to this part of Spain somehow or other (hence, the name Santiago, the Spanish for St. James). The pattern on the cake is the Cross of St. James.
Since walking the Camino in 2011, I like to make this cake every year around the anniversary of my pilgrimage, as a remembrance. You can find the pattern for the cross online and print it out or trace it, then cut it out for your pattern. For the cake, you can use almond flour or almond meal, or take toasted whole or even slivered almonds and grind them to a meal texture in a food processor or an electric coffee grinder (like I do).
Tarta de Santiago
2 to 2 1/2 cups almond flour or almonds
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon. cinnamon (optional, but better with)
1 teaspoon almond extract or 1 tablespoon Amaretto (also optional)
freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
powdered sugar for top
If using whole or slivered almonds, first toast lightly by lining a baking sheet with parchment paper and spreading almonds out in a single layer on the parchment. Bake in a 300-degree oven until very lightly toasted. This will only take a few minutes, so be careful not to let burn. Remove almonds from oven and let cool. When cool, grind in a food processor or coffee grinder until almonds are a meal texture and set aside.
Line a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper on the bottom and grease or oil sides of the pan. Or, grease sides and bottom and flour the bottom of the pan. Tap out excess flour. Set aside.
In a large bowl, add sugar. Make a well in the sugar. Add eggs. Beat well.
Add cinnamon, almond flavoring, and grated lemon zest. Stir. Add almond flour/meal. Fold in until batter is well mixed.
Pour batter into prepared cake pan. Tap pan on the counter lightly to release cake batter bubbles. Put pan in 340-degree oven and bake for 50-55 minutes. Cake is done when you press the top lightly and it springs back.
Let cake cool off for at least 15 minutes. Remove from pan and place on a plate. Place cut out Cross of St. James pattern on top. Sprinkle powdered sugar over top with a sieve. Remove pattern. Eat and bless yourself with holy wonderment at such deliciousness. ;-)
Next recipe is for a French cookie that resembles a boat. Navettes are fragrant, hard, biscotti-like cookies from Marseille in Provence in the south of France. That’s a shot of this beautiful sun-soaked city from when I went there in 2009.
Navettes are meant to resemble a canoe-like boat, supposedly one that transported Mary Magdalene, St. Martha, and Lazarus (yes, the Arise! guy) to the coast of southern France for some reason a long, long time ago. Or maybe it was Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary. Or maybe them and Mary Salome of Clopas and Mary, mother of James. (But not James the guy who ended up in Spain—James the other one, “the lesser,” whatever that means but it sounds rude.) It’s not clear how many holy people were gallivanting around in this one little boat and why they got around so much back then, more than modern-day hipsters on a 4-day/3-night California coast booze cruise. There were definitely multiple Marys involved though, because the boat landed at a place now called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. If only one Mary had made her way there, you wouldn’t see all those S’s in the name, so that’s how you know this all really happened. Reallys and trulys.
Navettes are best eaten with tea or coffee, like biscotti. Their secret weapon taste-wise and fragrance-wise is orange blossom water, which you can buy online or in most grocery stores. You can buy navettes year-round in Marseille, but locals go wild for them on Candlemas, February 2nd, and eat them the way French people in the rest of the country eat crepes for this religious holiday. The cookies are even blessed for Candlemas. Europeans sure do love to eat holy things. Americans are just happy if it’s somewhat palatable, nevermind if a halo grows out of you in reward for something as mundane as chewing.
There are several bakeries in Marseille that make navettes, but THE place is Four des Navettes, by the Vieux Port and St. Victor Abbey. Four des Navettes is the oldest bakery in Marseille, in operation since 1781. On Candlemas, the local archbishop leads a pilgrimage from the port to the abbey, then crosses over to the bakery to bless the cookies.
When I was in Marseille I made a pilgrimage to find this magical old bakery and walked all the way from the port and everything too. It took me forever, and I didn’t even try the cookies but just bought a tin as a gift to bring to my dad’s friends back in Paris. Afterwards, I still felt pretty smug and saintly, but then I tarnished it by stopping in a bar for a Cuba libre. Later I completely wrecked it by going to see (and enjoying!) a violent American revenge fantasy flick (Inglourious Basterds). Imagine trading being #blessed for two and a half hours of sitting in the dark with Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t do the same.