We used to host BBQs at the cycling club to thank our many volunteers and their families for their ongoing support as without their assistance we wouldn’t be able to hold our various events. I like to prepare from scratch the pre-BBQ nibbles, accompanying salads and all-important desserts, leaving M le President to handle the grill.
Of course, I also liked proving to the French that Brits can cook and I enjoy the challenge of mass catering. It’s as easy to cater for 100 as it is for 10, you just need to spend a bit more time on planning and preparation.
In these instances my go-to cookery book is one by Ferran Adria, the chef of the former legendary el Bulli restaurant. You can however put your chemistry sets away as this book The Family Meal contains the recipes he used to cook for his staff in the restaurant. They’re no less delicious and each recipe gives the quantities for generally 12, 20 and 75 portions. As I’ve found to my cost, particularly with baking, it’s not merely a question of doubling up a recipe however many times when you’re catering for large numbers.
The first time I made the cake, I didn’t appreciate its significance. Although it’s made all over Northern Spain, it hails from 16th century Santiago de Compostela, the city where Saint James’ body lies, and to where many make a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago (the way of St James). Typically, the cake will have the cross of St James stenciled on its top.
Ingredients (serves 24)
- 150g (1½ cups) whole blanched almonds, toasted
- 4 large organic eggs, approx 45g each (1⅔oz) without their shells
- 150g (1cup) golden caster sugar
- 1 tsp freshly grated organic lemon zest
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- Icing (confectioners’) sugar for dusting the top
1. Preheat oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan).
2. Generously grease and flour a baking tin. I typically use a disposable tin-foil baking tin 18cm x 23cm x 5cm (6” x 9” x 2″). They’re easier for storing the cakes in the freezer, which I line with a couple of strips of greaseproof paper to make it simpler to remove the cake. This amount fills two tins to the required depth.
3. Finely grind the toasted and cooled almonds in a food processor.
4. With an electric mixer – or a strong arm – beat the eggs with the sugar for around five minutes until thick, foamy and the whisk leaves ribbons in the batter. You’re aiming to get as much air as possible into the mixture.
5. Add the cinnamon and zest to the ground almonds, mixing well to combine.
6. Carefully fold the almonds into the egg mixture with a spatula so as to retain as much air as possible.
7. Pour the batter into the baking trays to a depth of around 1.5cm (about ½”) and bake in the oven for around 20 minutes, or until evenly risen, golden and shrinking away from the sides of the tin.
8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tins before turning out. Take care as it’s quite a fragile cake.
9. Just before serving, use a small fine sieve to generously dust the top of the cake with icing (confectioners’) sugar.
10. Allegedly, the cake will keep in a tin for four days but, honestly, it’s so scrummy it’s always eaten the day it’s cooked.
11. It should also keep well in the freezer for a month or so but omit the icing sugar. Dust only when fully defrosted.
Sheree’s Handy Hints
1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.
2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cakes in the oven, put the timer on for 3-5 minutes less than the cakes should take to cook and then check regularly.
3. If you think the cake is browning too quickly, particularly at the edges, cover it with an aluminium-foil tent.
4. If you don’t like cinnamon, substitute with 1 tsp of freshly grated orange zest.
5. The first time I made this cake, I served it with strawberries in balsamic caramel, but it would go equally well with other fresh fruit in season.
6. The cake would be gluten-free except that the baking tins are both greased and floured. Omit the flour and instead fully line the tins with greaseproof (parchment) paper for a truly gluten-free version.