Well, I picked the wrong topic for embarking on my series of posts on Alcalá. Deciding to start out light – leaving the question of the Quijote for much, much later – I thought I´d consider costrada, a pastry associated with the city.
I don´t know why I bothered since it´s already been blogged about (see below) and to be honest, light it is not. Despite the crema pastelera, a thick custard, and a soft, meringue filling, it has a hard, almond topping or costra, meaning crust (as well as the scabby kind you get when you fall flat on your face).
Appetising. You can´t even cut it without it demolishing into a flat, flaky mess. I first tried it fresh from Britain´s yummy, spongy, overly-sweet cakes and found it insipid, dry, annoyingly crumbly and not sweet enough.
Food blogger Lauren Aloise doesn´t share my impressions. In a post on the pastries of Alcalá she wonders if costrada might be the “perfect pastry” and loves its:
“layers of flaky puff pastry and sweet cream filling covered in soft meringue and finally topped with crushed sugared almonds.”
You can read Lauren´s review of costrada and other, equally dry Alcalá pastries here and for more information, check out this article in Spanish and (foreigner) English. It boasts a video of how to make costrada, curiously shot by a one-armed baker (WTF)?
So, apart from taking the photo above and having a large piece of costrada with a cup of tea for research reasons, I haven´t had to over-exert myself for this post.
This time around I had the good sense to forget dainty knives and forks and eat it with my hands. I liked it a little better.
But not much.
My advice is that if you´re ever in Alcalá, or anywhere else in Spain for that matter, give the crusty, dried-up old costrada the body swerve and have yourself a big slice of the moist, sweet, Tarta de Santiago from Galicia.
This has a compact consistency that doesn´t leave you all sticky and covered in crumbs because its almonds aren´t on the top but where they should be: ground into a delicious filling on the inside.