The tarta de Santiago is something of a mystery, given that Galicia is not really an almond-growing region, but recipes for it date back to the Middle Ages. It was only a century ago, however, that the cake gained its distinctive cross, etched into the icing sugar, and it was then that it changed name from torta real (royal cake) to honour Galicia’s patron saint. That this cake has gained so much popularity outside Spain probably comes down to the international presence on the Camino (pilgrimage route), and these days it’s often chosen as the one that most represents Spanish desserts.
‘I remember when I did the Camino de Santiago,’ says chef Koki García, ‘and the tarta was everywhere. I think it must have started out being popular on the walk for practical reasons, because it’s fairly resilient, easy to carry in your pocket, and unlike most cakes is still good to eat after a couple of days. You could even eat it on the fourth or fifth day, so it’s ideal for pilgrims.’
The tarta de Santiago is just one of the Galician specialities to come out of Meson de Alberto, the restaurant founded by Koki’s father in 1975. Photos of eminent patrons line the walls, including Pope John Paul II, who presumably can only have approved of this ecclesiastically named tart.
‘It’s pretty simple to make,’ says Koki. ‘There are no tricks – it’s a recipe that’s been used for centuries. You just need to follow the measures fairly closely, or it will be too dry or too liquid to cook properly. And test an almond before you buy – they shouldn’t be too bitter.’ Because of its unique texture, Koki recommends serving with ‘something creamy, or liquid’. A fruit or chocolate sauce would go well, or a papally approved holy wine.