Monday, April 8, 2013

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.

Bookmark and Share


  1. Beautiful! This tart is so irresistible. A real delight, I'm sure.



  2. What a beautiful tart! Pinning....I must make this!!

  3. Favolosa!! Bellissima anche la presentazione. Un abbraccio, buona settimana Daniela.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. This is beautiful, who's the lucky people that got to taste this? Custard in the middle is my downfall. I need a justifiable excuse to make this. STAT!

  8. Hilinda! I know this tart very well.. it is part of my tradition! beautiful: *

  9. un classico intramontabile per fare bella figura, bravissima ! Un abbraccio !

  10. Beautiful, Linda! I will try it out this week. Complimenti as usual!

  11. Oh! going to a party this weekend and this will fit in perfectly! Thank you!

  12. This is one of my favorites! I love everything about it...and forget freezing is all eaten and enjoyed down to the last happy crumb!

  13. No "pine nut syndrome" here.

    Va bene!

  14. The recipe goes into my recipe file ASAP. Now I can't wait for an occasion to make it. Always enjoy your recipes, especially the desserts - so beautifully Italian.

  15. Oh my, this looks so delicious my mouth is watering. I'm adding this to my must try list! Great idea to add the bit of baking powder.

  16. My kinda cake. Not one for the seven layer ones with tons of frosting. Love how you set up the shot. Very nice!!

  17. oooh my!! Does that ever look good! I adore pinenuts but never had them in a dessert setting. YUM!

  18. This is one gorgeous tart. I love pastry cream... my addiction to almond extract makes me want to add that, with the vanilla. This is company worthy.

  19. 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!

  20. your torta is lovely and perfect for spring!

  21. A classic for good reason! The pastry cream filling looks great, and I love the idea of having zabaglione with it.

  22. This looks so delicious. I love pastry cream.

  23. mi piace un sacco ma non lo mai preparata, un abbraccio SILVIA

  24. 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,

  25. My favorite ever. Torta dela Nona!