Sitting in a tapas bar in Vigo, the talk is about almond cake. Galicians adore almonds, mixing them into cakes and tarts, confections and desserts.
They aren‘t alone. If there is one thing that unites the diverse
regions of Spain it is their hard-shelled soft almonds. From Aragón to Andalusia, through Catalonia, Murcia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands, they thrive in the relentless Mediterranean sun,
resplendent in small orchards.
There are 100 varieties, each one prized, none more so than the
Almendra de Mallorca, among the most coveted in Spain. Majorcans say this native delicacy is unctuous, a description that might be applied to all Iberian almonds!
Europe completely agrees.
The Majorca almond is now one of five varieties grown commercially, along with Marcona, Largueta and Planeta, all Spanish natives, and Valencias – the common almond. All are coveted.
Most goes into confections –
- garrapiñadas (caramelised almonds)
- mazapán (sweet almond cake / paste)
- peladillas (sweet roasted almonds)
- turrón (sweet almond honey nougat).
Some goes into the ubiquitous romesco sauce, some intensifies the flavour of traditional dishes like gallina en pepitoria (sautéed chicken in almond and saffron sauce) and some of the best, the sweet nut of Majorca, is made into ice cream, also into oil and snacks, and into flour to make cake.
That golden cake! Closely related to peach and plum, almonds are native to the Mediterranean. Sugared almonds were one of the first sweet snack foods. Almond flour inspired bakers when it was introduced 400 years ago.
Almonds are a source of calcium, folacin, iron and selenium, vitamins B and E, and contain a small amount of protein.
The high oil content in Spanish almonds, which makes them moist, is a huge factor in their success. The oil brings out the flavour, in cakes and sweets, especially in garrapiñadas and peladillas which embrace that flavour like a lover.