The history of the Tarta de Santiago

The history of the Tarta de Santiago

Originated in the wealthiest households, its creation dates back to the 16th-18th centuries. One of the main features of the Galician pastry of the ancient times, when it was a luxury for just a few, is the presence of two ingredients: Sugar and almonds.

The first trustworthy information is a sponge cake and almond recipe found in the Confectionery Notebook that Luis Bartolomé de Leybar compiled around 1838.

Although it took the form of small sponge cakes, its elaboration coincides with the traditional Tarta de Santiago recipe.

In the 20th century, the Tarta de Santiago was progressively included into Spanish cookbooks where it was usually described as a product of traditional Galician pastry.

The cross of Saint James decoration on top wasn’t added until 1924, when the founder of the Casa Mora in Santiago de Compostela tried to add a twist to this traditional product. Others soon followed his design and, along with the growing popularity of this specialty, it spread throughout Galicia.

The pilgrimage through the different routes brought many visitors from Spain and from other countries to both Santiago de Compostela and the autonomous community. Thus, this Galician product became popular outside its borders.

– Historical Research Tarta de Santiago

Despite the scarcity of almond trees in Galicia, the consumption and trade of almonds can be witnessed since the Late Middle Ages, when it was already imported by sea from the Spanish Levante. Its use had both medicinal and gastronomic purposes.

Due to their scarcity and price, almonds were mainly consumed by the wealthiest people, especially as a dessert (which was a luxury that not many could afford). Along with other expensive ingredients like sugar, almonds were a distinctive element of wealthy households from at least the 16th century.

However, during the second half of the 19th century, almonds increasingly grew in popularity and became a part of what is now known as traditional Galician cuisine. Today, almonds may add a touch of sofistication to any dish, sweet or savory.