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.
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 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.
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.
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.