Santiago Under The Stars

I’m a complete sucker for anything almond. Almond croissants, almond-scented lotion, marzipan, almond paste straight from the tube… yeah, I have been that desperate before.  The word “almond” on a dessert menu can magically create a vacancy in my stomach that just a second earlier seemed stuffed to the brim. If you are like me, then you would LOVE Tarta de Santiago.

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The template used to make the cross on the Tarta de Santiago

Originally from the province of Galicia but now enjoyed all over Spain, a traditional Tarta De Santiago is a beautifully simple torte made with ground almonds, eggs, sugar, and a touch of lemon zest. It’s typically dusted with powdered sugar in the shape of the cross of Santiago (Saint James).  Pilgrims who walk the famous 500-mile camino that ends in Santiago de Compostela (where the remains of the apostle St.James are entombed– or so it is said) earn themselves a huge slice of this cake. Lucky for them, this torte can be found in almost every shop window of this medieval city, enticing almond lovers like me to taste and compare as many as possible.

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The scallop shell, marking the path of the “Camino de Santiago” through a typical town of Glaicia

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Typical rainy day in Galicia

Tarta de Santiago has always been my favorite Spanish dessert, so I was a little weary to mess with a classic. But when I saw the starfruit at Berkeley Bowl, I felt inspired to incorporate this beautifully shaped delicacy into the torte. I wanted to capture an image I have of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela under a starry night sky.

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I decided to slice the stars and lay them in the bottom of the torte pan dusted with a little sugar before pouring the batter on top, so that the fruit would caramelize during baking. The result after flipping the torte over is as beautiful as it is delicious.

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A little background on the fruit, which is also known as Carambola in Southeast Asia where it originated. Its flavor and texture are like a combination of apple, pear and grape. Starfruit is very low in sugar for a fruit (only 4% sugar content) so it has a slight sour taste that makes it great for poaching or cooking, just like green apples. You’ll get lots of antioxidants, potassium and vitamin C along the way.

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It’s important to warn that people with kidney problems should avoid starfruit completely– it’s high oxalic acid content is thought to make star fruit dangerous, or even deadly, for people with poorly functioning kidneys. Also, people on cholesterol lowering statin drugs or other prescription meds should avoid starfruit because it has the same potential to interact with medications as grapefruit (potent cytochrome P450 inhibitor).

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Santiago Under The Stars

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

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  • 1 starfruit
  • 1 tablespoon brown or demerara sugar
  • 8 ounces blanched almonds (can be whole or slivered)
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Slice off the very ends of the starfruit. If it has any browning on its five ridges, trim them carefully and then slice into 1/4″ thick slices. Grease the bottom and sides of a 10″ or 11″ springform cake pan with some butter and sprinkle the brown/demerara sugar over the bottom before laying the starfruit slices across the bottom. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the almonds in a food processor and grind until you have a fine meal.  Set aside.  With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar until it they are smooth and creamy. Add the lemon zest, almond extract, salt, and ground almonds and mix well.

With clean beaters, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold them into the egg and almond mixture until it is well incorporated. Pour the batter over the starfruit slices in the cake pan and bake for about 45 minutes or until the middle feels firm when touched lightly.  Remove from the oven and let cool.

Run a knife around the outside of the tart to ensure it is not stuck to the sides before releasing the springform pan and inverting the cake onto a serving plate. Carefully lift off the bottom of the springform pan to reveal the starfruit-topped cake below. Serve small slices, as this is a dense, flavorful cake.

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