Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Spanish Sorpresa

Last fall, I was gallivanting around Madrid and Europe with an incredible group of people in the Vassar-Wesleyan Madrid program.  Since returning, we have had several reunion dinners where we all get together and reminisce about our times abroad and talk about how much we love each other (the copious amounts of wine probably lead to the latter).

This weekend, my friend Jane's boyfriend came from Vassar to visit (they met on our program), and brought along a wonderful Spanish surprise: our friend, Helios!  Helios was one of our beloved monitores, the Spanish friends our program hires to show us around the city when we first get there.  We all fell in love with our first Spanish friends and were very sad to leave them behind.  This year, however, Helios is a language fellow at Vassar, which means we'll get to see him!  When I saw him through the window as I knocked on the door, I almost dropped my cake.  When our friend Annie came in and saw him, she screamed and they were locked in the most beautiful 5-minute embrace you'd ever seen.  It was a night of reconnecting, remembering how to speak Spanish, and of course, in true Spanish fashion, excellent food and wine.

I decided to make Tarta de Santiago, an almond cake characteristic of Santiago de Compostela, the city in Galicia where we had our orientation to Spain, to honor the place where all these beautiful friendships began.  I bought a cookbook of Galician desserts while we were there, but was very disappointed to find that it is cheaply made, missing lots of key steps, and just about impossible to follow.  (And this doesn't even have anything to do with the fact that it's in Spanish and metric units)!
Stacy and I did a lot of improvising, but in the end, I think it turned out just like the real thing.

Tarta de Santiago (Almond Cake)
Recipe adapted from Postres tradicionales de la cocina gallega.
Makes 2 8" round cakes.

2 sticks unsalted butter
8 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups ground almonds
Confectioners' sugar (to garnish)

Our food processor didn't work, so Stacy ground all the almonds in our coffee grinder.  What a trooper.
Beat together butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until smooth.  Gradually mix in flour until well-combined.
Almonds should be ground very finely.
Add ground almonds one cup at a time until batter is thick and smooth.  Do not overbeat.
Line the bottoms of pans with parchment paper.  Grease and flour the sides.
Pour half of batter into each pan and smooth out the tops with a spatula.
Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes.  Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then on wire racks.
My cakes rose unevenly, so I cut off the tops and then inverted them on the serving platter.  (Notice all the tunnels from over-beating: Exhibit A for why you shouldn't do that).
This is the characteristic symbol on top of every tarta de Santiago.  It's the cross of Santiago.  Cut out a design of your choice on a piece of paper and place it on the center of the cake.  Use a fine mesh sifter (I used a tea-ball) to dust the top with powdered sugar.
Gently peel off the paper stencil.  If there is any smudge, lightly wet the tip of your finger and brush it off.
I would have to say that it was pretty close to the real thing, even though we guessed our way through the recipe.
I didn't need the second cake, so I gave it to my housemate to take to her Great Gatsby-themed swing dance party.

Some pictures from the reunion:

Once cut, it still looked pretty awesome
So happy to be reunited!
Well, after a weekend of baking and fun and friends, it's time to get my butt in gear and get some studying done.  I am also teaching my first Zumba Fitness® class at Wes today, and I'm super-nervous.  It definitely makes me feel better to know that all my VWM friends will be there to support me.  ¡¡OS QUIERO!!

Love and cookies,

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