May 07, 2010

Torta della Nonna and a little story of my family

At the beginning of March the school where I work had a wonderful gala called La Dolce Vita, which aimed at raising money for the school (we are finally moving into a bigger space in September). As part of the fundraising effort many items were made available for an auction. The first item of the night was "Dolci per un anno" (a dessert per month for a year). I was the one offering this item, suggested by the organizers for its potential of success. In fact, it was a great success because this item alone raised $US 800. The item featured a tiramisu for the night of the gala and other 11 Italian desserts along the year.

April was the second month and Lisa (the winner of the item) was going to have a party so we decided that Torta della Nonna was an appropriate dessert. Torta della Nonna is a very typical Italian dessert and one of my favorite of all times. It is probably also one of the first desserts I've ever made by myself. My mom never really loved making desserts, while I have always loved it. After all, I am the sweet tooth of the family. So, as soon as I got old enough to use the stove by myself I became the one in charge of making desserts for family occasions. Torta della Nonna is also one of my brother's favorite, so I got to practice it over and over again. 

What to say about this is simply wonderful. It is made of a very simple pasta frolla crust (pasta frolla is similar to shortbread), filled with a very light lemony cream and topped with pine nuts. All completed by a sprinkle of confectioners' sugar before serving. Just perfect! Perfect for a dinner, an afternoon party, a snack...and even for breakfast. 

The one in the picture above is the cake I made for Lisa last weekend and was taken before the delivery (that's why there is no confectioners' sugar on top yet). Lisa and her guests said it was wonderful....too bad I could not eat it :(  
I will have to make it again, soon! In the meantime, here is my version.

Torta della Nonna
For the crust

300 gr all purpose flour
120 gr sugar
190 gr butter at room temperature
2 tsp baking powder
2 egg yolks
vanilla extract

For the cream

500 ml whole milk
4 egg yolks
80 gr sugar
40 gr flour
skin of 1 lemon
2 tsp vanilla extract
cream or butter

For the decoration 

Pine nuts
Confectioners' sugar

To make the crust
Sift the flour on a flat surface, together with the baking powder and the vanilla sugar (or extract).

Make a hole in the center of the flour (what we call the fountain) and put the butter, the sugar and the egg yolk in it.

Quickly mix all the ingredients with your hands, making sure not to over work the dough. 

Wrap the dough into plastic wrap and let it sit in a cold place for about an hour. (I usually put it in the fridge)

To make the cream
On the stove, warm up all the milk (but one glass) together with the vanilla.

In the meantime, in a small bowl whisk the egg yolks and the sugar with an electric mixer. Add the flour and the cold milk set aside, alternating the two.

Slowly add the mixture to the warm milk stirring well to avoid the formation of lumps.

Finally add the skin of half a lemon (cut not grated) and bring the mixture to boil, stirring continuously. It is very important to keep stirring to obtain a smooth cream. (If lumps start to form you can still get rid of them by mixing for a minute with an electric mixer but only until before it starts to become dense)

Let the mixture boil on low flame for a few minutes until it starts to get denser, then turn off the stove and let the cream cool down completely, stirring from time to time.

Before using the cream take off the lemon skin and add a spoon or two of butter or cream (both sour and whipping are fine. I personally prefer the whipping cream because it compensates the acidic of the lemon and thus makes the cream a bit sweeter and also a bit lighter).

To assemble the cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

Turn the dough onto a slightly floured surface and with a rolling pin give it a round shape about 3-4 mm thick. Place the round shaped dough into a greased pan, poke it with the tips of a fork and spread the cream uniformly and then also the pine nuts.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. Let it cool completely. Sprinkle confectioners' sugar just before serving.


Picture by Megan McKearney


  1. Do the pine nuts impart a strong flavour to the crust?

  2. WizzyTheStick: no, the pine nuts taste is not overwhelming at all. They are on top of the cream and they match very very well with it! I tend to put a lot of pine nuts because I just love them but you can put fewer than you can see in the picture

  3. Questa è una delle prime torte che ho imparato a fare. Molti anni fa ero riuscita ad avere la ricetta da una signora conosciuta da tutti per questo dolce... il suo cavallo di battaglia.
    Leggo che gli ingredienti sono praticamente uguali ( La prossima volta metterò i semini di vaniglia nell'impasto... dev'essere profumatissima!
    Suggerisco una spolverata di zucchero a velo sulla torta... non cambia di certo il sapore, ma per quel che ne so è la "versione ufficiale".

    Dall'Italia con simpatia!


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