It’s three more months and my maternity leave is over – yet I have another 15 pounds of baby weight to lose! Argh (pulling my hair out)! Ideally, before I go back to work, I’d love to fly across the big pond to northern Spain and do a two-week pilgrim’s journey to the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela. Surely, if I walked for days straight, I’d lose a few pounds here and there, right?
I know a friend who did two-weeks’ worth of self-discovery along this ancient pilgrimage route. Her husband joined her for a shorter one week walk. A year later, they were divorced. Must have been some soul-searching they did along the way.
If I had the opportunity, I would do the 1) Camino Francés, which starts in St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France and weaves 800 kilometres northwest to Santiago de Compostela. It passes through Roncesvalles, Pamplona, Torres del Rio, Burgos, Leon, and Astorga, to name just a few places I’d love to see.
Or, I would do 2) Camino del Norte, one of the longer routes, which starts in Irun near the French border and makes it way along the coast, 825 kilometres to Santiago de Compostela. It passes through San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Santander, among many.
Once the pilgrims reach the city of Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of St. James are believed to be in the cathedral, they are met with these almond cakes on the windowsills of every pastry shop there. Sort of like a well-earned reward for the long trek, I suppose?
Sigh. How I wish I could just pick up and go, like the old times…Oh, but this is just me dreaming about stuff again.
Back to the cake. This is usually baked in a wide cake pan and is meant to come out low (a maximum of 5/8 inches tall). It is also traditionally dusted in icing sugar with an imprint of St. James’ cross. But since I haven’t done the pilgrimage, I didn’t think it would be right to put the sign of the cross on my cake.
I love their delicate nutty flavour, and somehow, this really stands out in my mind as a very Spanish type of dessert. And I probably should not be admitting this, but I ate three-quarters of the 9″ x 13″ sheet all by myself. Shame!
If you do feel like indulging in something very Spanish and very tasty, I highly suggest the Santiago cake. This recipe is from the cookbook “The Family Meal” by Ferran Adria (yes, that Ferran Adria). The only thing I changed was the size of the baking vessel (he suggested a 12″ x 20″; I used a 9″ x 13″). Other than that, who am I to argue with a Spaniard and a world-renowned chef on a recipe? However, try not to follow my footsteps by eating the entire sheet. Oh well, I’d have to do some heavy-duty penance to pay for my sins. Mea culpa. The crux will be on the treadmill!
- 3 extra large eggs, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup (170 g) granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 cups (500 g) ground almonds
- 1 pinch ground cinnamon
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- confectioners’ sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Grease the bottom and sides on a 9″ x 13″ (minimum) or 12″ x 20″ (maximum) rectangular pan with butter. Add the flour and tap it around the pan. Tip out the excess. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
- Break the eggs into a bowl and add the sugar. Using a free-standing mixer with wire attachement or an electric hand whisk, beat until thick and foamy, about 5 minutes.
- Mix in the ground almonds (almond meall) and the cinnamon.
- Finely grate the lemon zest and stir into the dry ingredients.
- Gently add the ground almond mixture to the egg and sugar mixture. Fold in carefully with a spatula to retain as much air as possible. Immediately stop mixing when the batter is smooth. Do not overmix.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. The cake batter should be about 5/8-inch deep.
- Bake in the oven for 17 minutes, or until evenly risen, golden, and shrinking away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan.
- Remove the cake from the pan by lifting the parchment paper. Cut into portions with a knife or a cookie cutter / mold.
- Sprinkle confectioners’ sugar over the top using a fine-mesh strainer before serving.