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Torta della nonna

Torta della nonna

PT2H

A classic, Tuscan-born tart, Torta della Nonna has to be one of the most widespread and well-known Italian desserts. Its success likely lies in its simplicity: it consists of nothing more than two sheets of slightly leavened sugar pastry enclosing a creamy heart of lemon-scented custard. The top is studded with crunchy pine nuts and dusted with icing sugar, and no variants on this theme have ever gained much momentum.

Although the name might suggest otherwise, Torta della Nonna (Grandma's cake) isn’t a homestead creation; it wasn’t, in other words, invented by some pastry-savvy grandmother somewhere in the hills of Chianti. Rather, it appears to come from the kitchen of a restaurant. The origin is actually contentious, and is still reason for much debate between the provinces of Arezzo and Florence, each claiming this tart as their own brainchild.

The most accredited version states that it was a Florentine chef who first coded it – Guido Samorini of restaurant San Lorenzo. Rumour has it that he put the tart on the menu to jazz up the slightly monotone dessert list, and that the tart became an instant hit, so much so that it was never taken off the menu ever since.

Be that as it may, the combination of pastry, custard and pine nuts seems to have been around since much before Samorini; at least since the late 1800s, as Artusi mentions he tasted such pasticcio (hash) in one of his travels across the peninsula.

And it is precisely by Artusi that my recipe for Torta della Nonna is inspired. The pastry is a slight riff on one of his three pasta frolla (sugar pastry) recipes, (with the only difference of a pinch of leavening added to the dough). As for the custard, Artusi scents his solely with vanilla, while a classic Torta della Nonna filling has a bit of lemon zest thrown in there, too, so I worked it in his crema pasticcera recipe. And finally, a trick to prevent the pine nuts from burning is to rinse them thoroughly in cold water: they’ll come out of the oven perfectly golden, and just on the right side of toasted.

Ingredients

Metric

Imperial

1
Start by preparing the pastry. Combine the flour, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl and rub the butter into the flour using the tips of your fingers until you have a coarse, crumbly mixture. Add the egg, the yolk and the grated lemon zest, and knead until the dough comes together into a smooth ball. Wrap it in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 1 hour
2
Meanwhile, make the custard. In a medium glass bowl, whisk the yolks with half of the sugar until the sugar has dissolved completely. Slowly add the flour and keep whisking until fully combined. Pour over 60ml of the milk, whisk it in and set the bowl aside temporarily
3
Place the rest of the milk in a saucepan with the rest of the sugar, the lemon zest strips and vanilla seeds. Set the saucepan over a low heat and bring to a slow simmer. Remove from the heat, discard the lemon zest and pour the hot milk over the custard base in the glass bowl in a thin stream, whisking continuously until smooth
4
Place the custard back in the saucepan and set it over a low heat. Cook the custard until dense and glossy, stirring frequently and trying not to scorch it (don't let it boil). Once thickened, remove the custard from the heat and place in a clean glass bowl
5
Set the bowl over an ice bath so the custard can cool more quickly. Cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool to room temperature
6
Next, preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Butter and flour a 26cm deep tart tin and set it aside
7
Take the pastry out of the fridge and divide it into 2 pieces, one being 2/3 of the total. Roll the larger piece into a 2mm-thick circle that is large enough to cover the bottom and sides of the tin. Flip it onto the tin, press it with your fingertips so it sticks to the surface of the tin and cut off any overhanging. Pierce the surface all over with a fork
8
Fill the pastry shell with the cooled custard and level the top. Roll the remaining pastry into a thin circle that is large enough to cover the top of the tart completely. Trim any excess, then pinch the top and bottom edges together
9
Top the surface of the tart with the slightly damp pine nuts and press them down gently so as to make them adhere to the pastry
10
Bake the tart for 45 minutes, or until deeply golden all around. Allow the tart to cool completely before dusting it with icing sugar, slicing and serving
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