Torta della Nonna - Italian 'Grandma's cake' with lemon custard and pine nuts

Well this has been a very long time coming - and I really wanted to start with a big post sharing lots of photos from my trip (which will be coming shortly) but I thought I had better get cracking and put up a recipe before you forget From the Kitchen completely! Right then, one month traveling around Italy, so many food experiences - pastries, pasta, seafood, coffee, wine and liqueurs but the first recipe I want to share is a little old-school comfort cake, a traditional torta very popular in Tuscany: Torta della Nonna. Two light layers of pastry enclose a gently sweet and lemony custard, all topped with lightly golden toasted pine nuts and a sprinkling of icing sugar. There are many versions of this torta - some use ricotta, some just custard, some enclose the custard like I have as a kind of pie, whilst other recipes have no 'lid', just the custard in a pastry base, topped with the pine nuts. Whichever way you choose to make it, it really does have that magical nurturing factor, as if prepared with a loving hand - and tastes equally good with tea, coffee or a wee glass of Vin Santo.

200g butter, at room temperature, roughly chopped
3 c plain flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder
2/3 cup icing sugar
pinch of salt
finely grated zest of 1 spray free lemon
3 egg yolks
1 whole egg

2 cups whole milk
finely grated zest of 1 spray free lemon
6 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup caster sugar
3 tbsp cornflour
1 tbs plain flour
1/2 cup ricotta
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 tbsp icing sugar

Whiz butter, flour, baking powder, icing sugar, salt and lemon zest in a food processor, just until it forms 'breadcrumbs'. Add egg and egg yolks and pulse until it all comes together in a clumpy ball. Tip out onto a lightly floured bench and roll into a fat log. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge. While it chills, prepare the custard.

Heat the milk and lemon zest in a saucepan over a medium heat until it just starts to simmer. While the milk is warming, in a separate bow, whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla extract, sugar, cornflour, and flour until the mixture is completely smooth. Once the milk is simmering, add half of it to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the milk and egg mixture back into the remaining hot milk and continue whisking over the heat until the custard is very thick and smooth. Remove from the heat, pour into a container, cover the surface with plastic wrap and chill. Once chilled, stir through the ricotta.

Remove pastry from the fridge and allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes and preheat the oven to 170˚C (340˚F). Cut the pastry in half and roll out one half to line the base and sides of a 23cm fluted, removable base tart tin, which needs to be at least 3cm deep. Pour chilled custard on top and smooth with the back of a tablespoon. Roll out remaining pastry and cut to fit gently on top of custard. Seal the sides with the top by squishing gently around the rim. Sprinkle with pine nuts and  bake 40-45 minutes until golden. Serve at room temperature with a good dusting of icing sugar, and  an optional blob of softly whipped cream.


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