This is the traditional dessert of pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Campostela in Spain. It is suspiciously similar to cakes Jews make during Passover, as it uses no flour and no dairy. It also uses almonds and citrus, two ingredients the Arabs brought to Spain. My hunch is the Catholic Spaniards adapted it from their Jewish and Muslim neighbors, before forcing them out (or killing them) in 1492.
On Passover, I baked it in a nifty hamsa mold to celebrate its Jewish and Arab roots.
The history may be fraught, but the dessert is delicious and easy to make. The traditional cakes have St. James’ cross stenciled on as decoration. I’ve stenciled on a Jewish star, Naomi’s initials (for her birthday) and a goat (for mine).
- 1/2 pound (1 3/4 cups) blanched whole almonds or almond flour
- 6 large eggs, separated
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- Grated zest of 1 orange
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- 4 drops almond extract (optional)
- Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan or a hamsa mold. If using a cake pan it helps to line with parchment.
- Pulverize the almonds in a food processor if you don’t use almond flour.
- To make this cake more easily, I start by beating the whites. Separate the whites directly into the bowl of your mixer with a whisk attachment. Put the yolks in a small bowl. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Transfer them to a large bowl.
- In the mixer, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until the mixture looks pale and creamy. Beat in the orange and lemon zest and the almond extract. Add the ground almonds and mix very well.
- Add about 1/2 the whites to the egg yolk mixture and stir well to lighten everything up. Then fold in the rest of the whites with a spatula.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes. It should feel firm to the touch. A toothpick inserted into the center will come out pretty clean. Let cool, then unmold.
- Make a stencil. Use a cross if that’s your thing, a Jewish star, a crescent, a birthday boy or girl’s initials — a cookie cutter of a goat, whatever. When cool, dust the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar over the stencil.