15 October 2011

15 October - Saint Teresa of Avila

Memorial of Saint Teresa of Avila - Discalced Carmelite, reformer, mystic, and Doctor of the Church.

Teresa Sanchez Capeda Davila y Ahumada, born in Avila, Spain on the 28th of March 1515; died at Alba de Tormes 4 October 1582.  Her's is a fascinating life, full of contradictions.  I have always liked the story of her persuading her brother to go with her to Africa, so that they could be martyred ("a quick way to see God").  That is very much a child's reasoning.

You can read Saint Teresa's Autobiography at Project Gutenberg; The Interior Castle at Sacred Texts (the translation is by the Benedictines of Stanbrook, which will make this edition more in keeping with Saint Teresa's vision than that of the New Age translations you'll find in the local bookstore); and Way of Perfection at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Other ideas for celebrating the life of Saint Teresa can be found at Catholic Culture, including "Saint Teresa's Bookmark" and more Spanish recipes to enjoy.
Avila has several dishes for which it is justly known, but in honor of Teresa, here is a candy made in Avila called YEMAS DE SANTA TERESA (Yolks of Saint Teresa).

Some say that Teresa's nuns made these sweets to raise money; others, that they have been made from secret recipes handed down in baking families.  Whatever their origins, they are a fascinating and contradictory concoction... just like the Saint.

Start with 12 egg yolks (save the whites for angel food cake or meringue).  Put the yolks through a fine mesh sieve into a saucepan and set aside.

In another saucepan, mix together 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water, a cinnamon stick, and the zest of one lemon (you can add 1/2 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice as well, if you want the flavor to be more lemony).  Stir over medium heat, thoroughly dissolving the sugar, until it reaches a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until syrup reaches the soft-ball stage (about 234 degrees on the candy thermometer).  Remove from heat and discard the cinnamon stick.

Carefully add the syrup to the egg yolks (or the egg yolks to the syrup, if you prefer), stirring constantly.  (I have found that adding a spoonful of hot mixture into the eggs, stirring furiously, then adding another spoonful, stirring furiously, and maybe a third spoonful, helps to incorporate the hot mixture without cooking the eggs. Then, either mixture can be stirred into the other.)  Cook mixture over medium heat, still stirring constantly, until it thickens slightly.  Remove from heat, and stir until mixture is stiff and does not stick to the sides of the pan.

You can now either pour the mixture onto a greased flat pan, or sprinkle powdered sugar on a plate and spread the mixture on it.  Allow the mixture to cool until you can handle it.

When cool enough to handle, form mixture into small balls and roll them in more powdered sugar. Place the balls on a clean plate, cover with plastic wrap, and chill completely (overnight is best).

You can also order these sweets (and other foods from Spain) on the La Tienda website.