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Torta Della Nonna

 Torta della nonna is one of those iconic desserts that every Italian grandmother has in her repertoire. After all, it consists of not much more than two layers of pasta frolla with pastry cream in the middle and pine nuts on top. But put those simple ingredients together in a tart and suddenly it feels like Spring. Ok, so maybe the sounds of birds chirping outside my window has cheered me too. 

Pasta frolla is the basic pastry crust that’s used in a crostata, and includes egg, which changes it from the basic pie crust made in the U.S. But the torta della nonna I see in Italy seem to have some additional leavening also, so I added a little baking powder to give me the results I wanted. It becomes a dough that’s just a little bit puffy, but still firm too.
Make this in a tart pan with a removable bottom and serve with fresh fruit. If you really want to gild the lily, serve with freshly whipped cream — or be even more decadent and whip up a zabaglione.


P.S. This freezes well after it’s made, in the highly unlikely case you have any leftover.

Torta Della Nonna
printable recipe here

Pastry – pasta frolla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 t. vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 or 3 T. ice water, if needed

Place the dry ingredients in a bowl or food processor, add the butter and mix until it looks like coarse sand. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the water) and mix only until it holds together. If it’s too dry, add a couple of tablespoons of cold water until the mixture comes together. Do not over mix or your dough will be tough. Bring together into a ball.

Pastry Cream
2 cups whole milk
zest of one lemon (if you prefer not to use lemon, scrape the seeds from one vanilla bean into the milk or add 1/4 t. almond extract)
4 large egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour

Put the lemon zest and the milk into a large, heavy saucepan and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl or mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale yellow. Add the flour and whisk until well combined.
Remove the lemon zest from the saucepan and slowly add the hot milk into the egg mixture, a tiny bit at a time. If you add them too quickly, you’ll scramble the eggs. Then return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over low to medium heat, stirring constantly. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens and starts to boil. If it gets lumpy, use a whisk, or even a hand-held stick blender to smooth it out.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, against the surface of the pastry cream, so it doesn’t develop a “skin.”Cool in refrigerator.

Other ingredients:
1/2 cup pine nuts (I use only those grown in the Mediterranean. DO NOT buy pine nuts from Asia or you risk getting pine nut syndrome.)
To assemble: Cut the dough in half and roll out one half into a disk shape. Fit it into a tart pan with a removable bottom. Place the pastry cream over the dough. Roll the second half of the dough into a disk and cover the pastry cream. Brush with a beaten egg that’s been mixed with a tablespoon of water. Sprinkle pine nuts on top and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 35 to 40 minutes until browned on top.
Note: You will have extra dough after trimming the tart. Don’t throw it out. Gather it into a ball and freeze for another use. I like to roll out the leftover dough into a small disk and freeze it that way. Then when I feel like making a one-shell tart quickly, I take it from the freezer, let it thaw, and add some jam, or ricotta mixed with sugar and chocolate chips, bake it and you have a quick dessert.
This Post Has 26 Comments
  1. I think of this as an Italian miracle tart. I made it just once and was so surprised to see the custard stay intact after baking. It didn't seem possible.

    You make me want to make it again so I can try your crust recipe.

  2. What a beautiful torta! It is perfect. I lost my favorite recipe, and I am so pleased to have a new one! And how cool (so to speak) to know that this one freezes well. That is VERY good news!

  3. So I put on 8 pounds this winter and then you post this simple cake that I ADORE. Adore!!! It's getting so I need to have a get-together to make this tantalizing beauty.

  4. I have often wanted to make Torta della Nonna not that any nonnas I knew made this but it looks so delicous! It's great to know it freezes well. I wouldn't have thought that. Thank you!

  5. Oh how I wish I would have been able to enjoy Italian torte growing up. My family just didn't prepare a lot of sweets outside of the holidays. 🙁 I have just fallen in love with torte ever since my trip last October to Italy. Thank you Linda for writing such a great blog! Every one of your posts and recipes educates and delights me!

    Baci e' amore,
    Roz

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