Tortell de Sant Antoni is the winter version of the traditional pastry consumed during the midsummer festival of Sant Joan. The ring-shaped cake made of brioche-like pastry is eaten on the day of Els Tres Tombs, which every January 17 honours Sant Antoni Abat (St Anthony the Abbot), the patron saint of animals.
Saint Anthony was known to treat any injured animals he might come across, and legend has it that he once helped a piglet he found in Barcelona and so, out of gratitude, the piglet accompanied him ever after. That explains why Sant Antoni is often portrayed with a piglet at his side. The saint’s connection with the Catalan capital includes the Festa dels Tres Tombs, a musical cavalcade of animals – horses, donkeys and mules – that are paraded around the city centre.
Stuffed with marzipan or fondant, Tortell de Sant Antoni is almost identical to Tortell de Reis, which is eaten on January 6 when families open their gifts, but without the garnish of candied fruit.
Found on sale in bakeries and cake shops all over Catalonia in the days leading up to the feast day of Sant Antoni, the cake usually contains two surprises hidden inside: a dried bean and a figurine of an animal or a woodpecker. As with Tortell dels Reis, whoever is served the slice that contains the bean is supposed to pay for next year’s tortell.