Some say that cake feeds the soul - this rings particularly true for the Tarta de Santiago, a simple Spanish bake from the middle ages that continues to fuel pilgrims in their droves each year on the Camino de Santiago. Gluten and lactose free, in modern times it also makes for an -allergen and intolerance-friendly treat.
The Camino de Santiago, also known as Way of Saint James, is a network of trails that stretch across Europe, culminating in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Many embark on the journey for a spiritual connection with nature and humanity, others to tick it off the bucket list - whatever the reason, you can guarantee that everyone gets pretty hungry along the way.
Enter the Tarta de Santiago! Based on three simple ingredients: eggs, ground almonds and sugar, this fairly flat, dense cake is said to have been introduced to Galicia by a passing pilgrim and has become a signature of the region ever since, earning its PGI status in 2010. Indeed it may have been the original energy bar for hikers!
Historical references for Tarta de Santiago stretch back as far as 1577 when it was called Torta Real (Royal Cake) and the recipe hasn’t changed much since. You can recognize it instantly by the mark of Saint James that always adorns the top of the cake; a cross resembling a sword with a fleur-de-lis on the hilt and arms. This same cross marks the way on scallop shells for hikers to find their path while walking along the Camino de Santiago.
It may be rooted in religious origins but the Tarta de Santiago also fits into today’s dietary needs. Because it’s a flourless and lactose-free cake, celiacs and lactose-intolerants can enjoy it as a traditional Spanish dessert that needs no modifications. Although the Spanish prefer a slice of this emblematic cake with coffee and a view in Santiago de Compostela, you can have your cake and eat it too, closer to home. New York City is leading the Camino, with a string of its top tapas joints serving up pious portions; Mercado Little Spain of Andrés and Adrià fame, Tomiño and Socarrat, to name a few. Amen to that!