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Santiago Torte

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Last summer, my husband and I became pilgrims along the Camino, hiking the trail from Baiona, Spain, near the Portuguese border, northward to reach the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  After attending a service in the Cathedral to give thanks for the safe completion of our 75-mile hike, we joined fellow pilgrims in a nearby restaurant for a celebratory lunch.  Even though we were quite full after a wonderful meal of baked fish and fresh vegetables, we noticed a unique cake that seemed to be popular among others in the dining room, and asked what it was.  Upon learning that the cake was a Santiago Torte, it seemed only appropriate to end our time in this historic city with cake that shared its name.  The distinct flavor and texture of the Santiago Torte were captivating and became a “food memory” of our time in Spain.
Back at home, I began my search for a recipe for Santiago Torte.  An internet search yielded several variations with a variety of different ingredients…one used 2 types of citrus, another only oranges, one used 6 eggs, another only 4…but the absence of flour was the one common factor in all the recipes.  The main ingredient of each recipe was finely ground almonds.  After meticulously reading approximately 10 recipes, I selected two and because there were distinctive differences in not only the ingredients but also the in the techniques for mixing the cakes, I decided to make both of the cakes on the same afternoon…the only way to fairly compare flavors and textures.
The reviews of the two tortes were somewhat varied.  We preferred the texture of the cake made by folding the beaten egg whites into the remaining ingredients, but the flavor of the cake made with the zest of one orange was judged to be better than the cake made with two types of citrus.  One aspect shared by both recipes was the level of “sweetness”.  It seemed to me that the flavor of each cake was somewhat masked due to the amount of sugar used in the recipes.
In an effort to create a Santiago Torte that reflected the best parts of each recipe, I made the Torte several times, each time changing one aspect of the recipe, taking notes about flavor and texture.  The one consistent factor was with each Torte, I slightly decreased the amount of sugar used in a previous attempt, until I reached an amount that maintained the needed proportion of dry ingredients to liquids, but complimented the flavor instead of masking the citrus with “sweetness”.  Two weeks ago, I incorporated all my changes into one last “try-this” attempt.  I took the Torte as my contribution to a dinner at a friend’s house.  After a wonderful meal, I placed a slice of the cake in front of my friend, asking her to try let one more attempt. Then, I watched her face…and waited.  Her smile said it all…the recipe was finally complete!
As you enjoy my version of Torte de Santiago, please share your thoughts and possible suggestions for further revisions.  I look forward to reading your comments.

  Santiago Torte, A Spanish Almond Cake

serves 12


2 cups (250 grams) blanched, slivered almonds
¾ cup caster or superfine sugar, divided use
finely grated zest of 1 orange
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract (Vanilla paste contains flecks of ground vanilla beans and is thicker, with a slightly richer flavor than vanilla extract.  It is available at larger grocery stores.)
5 eggs, separated
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
Whipped cream for serving, if desired


Preheat the oven to 340 degrees.  Coat an 8-inch springform pan with cooking spray and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
Place almonds and 2 tablespoons of the ¾ cup of caster sugar in the bowl of a food processor.  (The caster sugar will prevent the almonds from “clumping” as they are ground)
Grind the almonds until they reach the consistency of fine corn meal.
Combine egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl and use an electric mixer on high speed to blend into a smooth, creamy mixture.  With the mixer on medium speed, beat in the orange zest, cardamom, cinnamon, and vanilla paste.  Add the ground almonds and combine all ingredients with mixer on low speed. (Mixture will be very thick.)
Place egg whites in medium bowl.  Using the whisk beaters of the mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Add the beaten egg whites to the almond mixture and use a large spatula to blend.  (Do not use the mixer to blend the egg whites with the almond mixture.  Due to the thickness of the almond mixture, it will be necessary to use the spatula to cut through the mixture several times to completely incorporate the egg whites.)
Pour the cake batter into the prepared springform pan.  Bake in the preheated oven for 35 – 40 minutes or until the cake is golden and firm to the touch.  (The center should be slightly set and not as dark in color as the remainder of the cake.)
Allow cake to cool in the pan on wire rack.  As the cake cools, it will begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.  At this point, loosen the sides of the pan and remove to allow the cake to continue cooling.  (The cake will remain on the bottom of the spring form pan.)
Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with confectioner’s sugar.
Note:  If you wish to truly make this like the cake served in Santiago, Spain, make a stencil by cutting the image of a St. James cross from paper.  Place the stencil in the center of the cake and then dust with confectioner’s sugar.  Remove the stencil, dust off the sugar and place in a plastic bag to use again.

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4 Responses to “Santiago Torte”

  1. Frances R McGuire Says:

    Two comments:

    1) What is the vanilla extract substitute for vanilla paste

    2) I couldn’t access the Irish Soda Bread recipe. It required a password. Also, I couldn’t find it on your website??

  2. admin Says:

    Frances, thanks for your questions. Vanilla extract can be used as an exact exchange for vanilla paste. The paste is slightly thicker and has flecks of ground vanilla bean which makes the flavor a bit richer than vanilla extract. I have added this information to the recipe. As for the Soda Bread recipe, I have now posted it to my blog, with an attempt to explain the confusion related to the recipe being initially posted as “password protected”. I hope you will enjoy the Soda Bread’s warm “deliciousness”.

  3. Kathleen Says:

    I’m a friend of Ninevah’s who has had the pleasure of tasting this cake. It’s amazing!!! I know that Ninevah comes up with some incredible recipes – I used to think that her muesli was the best, but this cake is outstanding!! This will definitely be my go-to dessert for company and for holidays.

  4. admin Says:

    Thanks, Kathleen…knowing your gourmet skills, this is special compliment!