Torta della Nonna – Italian ‘Grandma’s cake’ with lemon custard & pine nuts


Well this has been a very long time coming – and I really wanted to start with a big post sharing lots of photos from my trip (which will be coming shortly) but I thought I had better get cracking and put up a recipe before you forget From the Kitchen completely! Right then, one month traveling around Italy, so many food experiences – pastries, pasta, seafood, coffee, wine and liqueurs but the first recipe I want to share is a little old-school comfort cake, a traditional torta very popular in Tuscany: Torta della Nonna. Two light layers of pastry enclose a gently sweet and lemony custard, all topped with lightly golden toasted pine nuts and a sprinkling of icing sugar. There are many versions of this torta – some use ricotta, some just custard, some enclose the custard like I have as a kind of pie, whilst other recipes have no ‘lid’, just the custard in a pastry base, topped with the pine nuts. Whichever way you choose to make it, it really does have that magical nurturing factor, as if prepared with a loving hand – and tastes equally good with tea, coffee or a wee glass of Vin Santo.

Pastry:
200g butter, at room temperature, roughly chopped
3 c plain flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder
2/3 cup icing sugar
pinch of salt
finely grated zest of 1 spray free lemon
3 egg yolks

1 whole egg

Filling:
2 cups whole milk
finely grated zest of 1 spray free lemon
6 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup caster sugar
3 tbsp cornflour
1 tbs plain flour
1/2 cup ricotta
1/3 cup pine nuts

2 tbsp icing sugar

Whiz butter, flour, baking powder, icing sugar, salt and lemon zest in a food processor, just until it forms ‘breadcrumbs’. Add egg and egg yolks and pulse until it all comes together in a clumpy ball. Tip out onto a lightly floured bench and roll into a fat log. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge. While it chills, prepare the custard.

Heat the milk and lemon zest in a saucepan over a medium heat until it just starts to simmer. While the milk is warming, in a separate bow, whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla extract, sugar, cornflour, and flour until the mixture is completely smooth. Once the milk is simmering, add half of it to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the milk and egg mixture back into the remaining hot milk and continue whisking over the heat until the custard is very thick and smooth. Remove from the heat, pour into a container, cover the surface with plastic wrap and chill. Once chilled, stir through the ricotta.

Remove pastry from the fridge and allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes and preheat the oven to 170˚C (340˚F). Cut the pastry in half and roll out one half to line the base and sides of a 23cm fluted, removable base tart tin, which needs to be at least 3cm deep. Pour chilled custard on top and smooth with the back of a tablespoon. Roll out remaining pastry and cut to fit gently on top of custard. Seal the sides with the top by squishing gently around the rim. Sprinkle with pine nuts and  bake 40-45 minutes until golden. Serve at room temperature with a good dusting of icing sugar, and  an optional blob of softly whipped cream.

 

20 comments

  1. A cake with filling! Sounds fantastic – I am surely going to try this! Your pictures are breath taking gorgeous – light is outstanding!

  2. Beautiful pictures! This recipe sounds wonderful. Can you tell me what size measuring utensils (cups and spoons) you use? I assume UK, rather than USA, but thought I better ask. Thanks, Christina

  3. Thanks for the info on your measuring devices. The differences you outline are the very reason why I, despite being from the USA, use a scale and metric for everything I can! Once I converted to weights and metric, I could never understand why anyone would use anything else, it's so much easier to me. And a gram is a gram the world around. But USA Americans seem to be allergic to weights, for some reason I cannot understand. I hope to try this recipe soon, it sounds simply delightful! Oh and thanks for the handy dandy conversion site, somehow I had missed that up until now. Christina

    1. Hi Christina n o problem! I know what you mean about grams, it would make life so much easier, but you would be surprised how many people won't even look at a recipe which requires them to weigh everything! It's not usually so critical in cooking but baking….argh!!! πŸ™‚

  4. What a lovely blog! I can not wait to make this beautiful, rustic cake…this is my type of baking, flavors and ingredients. πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment Cristina – I really appreciate it, and hope you enjoy the torta! πŸ™‚

  5. Could you expand upon what you mean by cooking the custard until it is "very thick"? I made this cake yesterday for some friends who are coming over today and cooked it until it was a thick pudding–should I have cooked it longer? Can't wait to try it later today!

  6. I had this cake at an Italian restaurant in St.Augustine Florida. Thought it was the chef's nonna's recipe. Decided to "google" it to see if I could find a similar cake only to come accross this.Sounds exactly like the cake I ate which was to die for especially with a good strong espresso. Can hardly wait to try baking it Thanks for this.

  7. Hey Sarah….I don’t know if the time has lapsed to leave comments, but I’m hoping you can help me. I decided to make the Torta della nonna for Easter instead of the Neapolitan Pastiera that I usually make. I had the Torta when I was in Florence and have been looking for a recipe that sounded most authentic, which yours does. So, I just popped it in the oven. The cream is scrumptious and the crust tastes great raw, but it totally disintegrated so I had to piece it together. Any suggestions as to what I may have done wrong?
    By the way, I live in St. Augustine, Florida and I’m guessing your previous comment ate at the restaurant Terra e Acqua. I’ve had it there and even though the owner is from Florence, it wasnt as creamy as what I remember having in Florence.

    1. Hi Angela – I’m so sorry your crust fell apart – I’m thinking you mean after it was cooked? It is very difficult for me to say why, assuming you followed the recipe exactly…mine was short but held well. Can you think of any variance to the recipe?

  8. Made this for a dinner party yesterday. It was wonderful! Light, airy and delicious. Thanks!

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