Torta della Nonna is Italian and means ‘grandmother’s cake’ – imagine an Italian grandmother in a small town of Tuscany, preparing her special cake on a Sunday morning for her big family feast later in the afternoon. I would love to be a part of that. Luckily, la Nonna shared her recipe and we can all make our own slice of Tuscan temptation. As surprising as this might be, the recipe was actually not invented by a grandmother. Instead, it comes from a restaurant kitchen, but the Nonna version gives us that grandmother’s hug feel.
Torta della Nonna is a rustic Italian dessert cake that is wildly desired in Italy. Its popularity lies in its simplicity: a lightly sweet pastry crust with a lemony aroma filled with a creamy, rich, vanilla custard and topped with oven-roasted pine nuts to give it that nutty scent.
This tart is a real treat and no variation on this recipe ever stands a chance. Why would you if it’s already so perfect as is!? This is why I stick to the classic recipe and make only one, small adjustment: I like to serve my Torta della Nonna without the top layer of the pastry (so, open-faced). For me, this makes the cake a little lighter and more moist, and I also think presentation-wise it’s nice to see the star of the show, or the creamy cake filling. But, of course, if you like to have this pastry layer on top, you can follow the instructions below, and just make sure to prepare about 40% more pastry crust. Then, sprinkle the pine nuts over the second crust pastry layer.
The roasted pine nuts on top give it a nutty, crispy twist. A trick to prevent them from burning is to soak them in water for 5 minutes before you sprinkle them over the Torta della Nonna. They’ll come out of the oven perfectly golden and toasted.
Once baked, you can store Torta della Nonna in the fridge for 4 days on a covered plate. If you’d like to prepare it before an event, you can even bake the pastry up to 3 days in advance, and make the custard one day ahead of time.
TORTA DELLA NONNA
- 22 cm pan (or slightly bigger)
- 140 g butter room temperature
- 100 g granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- Lemon zest from 1 lemon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 260 g flour plus a little more for the pan
- 0.5 tsp baking powder
- 1 pinch of salt
- 400 g fresh whole milk
- 100 g heavy cream
- 150 g white granulated sugar
- 6 fresh egg yolks
- 20 g potato starch
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 80 g pine nuts
- 2 tbsp powdered sugar
- In a large bowl, whisk together the butter and sugar with a mixer until it becomes light-colored. Add the egg, egg yolks, lemon zest and vanilla extract, and whisk to combine. In a medium-sized bowl, mix flour together with baking powder and salt, strain it with a small meshed strainer, and add this to the butter mixture. If you have one, change the whisk to a dough hook. Otherwise, keep the regular whisk on and whisk for just a few seconds until the dough is the size of breadcrumbs that hold together when you squeeze them. Pad the dough together by hand (without kneading!), press it flat, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it set in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
- While the dough rests, prepare the custard.
- Put the milk, heavy cream and half of the sugar into a medium-sized saucepan and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix the egg yolks with the other half of the sugar, cornstarch and vanilla extract. Gradually, pour half of the boiling milk mixture onto the egg mixture, stirring constantly with a hand whisk.
- The other half of the milk mixture ( the one that you do not pour into the egg mixture) stays in the saucepan to be heated up again. Bring it to a boil. As soon as the milk boils, pour the content from the mixing bowl back into the saucepan. Stir constantly with a hand whisk.
- Continue stirring until the custard has thickened, but before it forms any lumps, for about 1 minute.
- Check the consistency by inserting a spoon. When you pull it out, it should be covered by the custard and if you run your finger along it on the spoon and the custard should come off fully on your finger, leaving a mark on the spoon. Once it has the correct consistency, immediately transfer the custard into a baking dish, cover with plastic wrap so that the wrap makes direct contact with the custard, and place in the fridge to cool down.
- Grease the tart pan with a bit of butter and lightly flour it.
- Roll out the dough with a little bit of flour until it’s approx. 4 mm (0.15 inch) thick, and carefully place it in the tart pan, creating borders of approx. 4 cm (1.5 inch) and dock the pastry with a fork. Transfer to the fridge and let it sit for 30 minutes.
- Take the cooled custard out of the fridge, and lightly whisk it with a hand whisk if the consistency is very thick. Pour the custard into the shortcrust pastry shell. Add the cream into the shortcrust pastry shell.
- Scatter the pine nuts onto the custard. Let it sit in the fridge for 15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 180° Celsius (356° Fahrenheit). Bake on the middle-rack of the oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 160° Celsius (320° Fahrenheit) and bake for another. 30-40 minutes approx, until the custard has thickened and the crust is golden brown. At this point, the cake will lightly swell on the surface. Don’t worry, it will deflate.
- Remove from the oven, let it cool down slightly, and then remove from the tart pan and let it cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar right before serving. You can keep La Torta della Nonna in the fridge for up to 4 days.