While on the subject of Grandma's - not my Aussie one but the equally dear Italian version 'Nonna' - I'd love to share this recipe with you first up. For 3 reasons: 1. we gotta start somewhere, so many fantastic recipes and stories to tell you. 2. Torta della Nonna is one of my all time fav European cakes to eat. And 3. It's a supreme example of 'simple sophistication'. What I call a 'classic, classy cake'. It's exactly what this blog is all about. Inspiring you to bake with me, dishes that present beautifully, taste incredible and are simple to create. And re-create - whenever your heart desires.
1 egg, lightly beaten ❤ 2 tablespoons pine nuts ❤ icing sugar for dusting
Pasta Frolla (for the Pastry) 250 grams plain flour ❤ 120 grams caster sugar ❤ 120 grams unsalted chilled chopped butter ❤ 1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk ❤ 1½ teaspoons baking powder ❤ zest of 1 lemon
Crema Pasticcera (for the Custard filling)
2 eggs, plus 1 yolk ❤ 100 grams caster sugar ❤ 50 grams plain flour ❤ 30 grams unsalted butter softened ❤ 250ml 1 cup milk ❤ 250ml 1 cup cream
Method + Top Tips
To make the pasta frolla, place four, sugar and a pinch of salt in a food processor or mixer. I use my Kitchenaid with the dough hook attached. Add chopped cold butter and pulse/mix until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Then add egg and yolk, baking powder and lemon zest. Pulse or mix until pastry just comes together. Don't overwork your pastry. Stop mixer immediately and transfer pastry to a large sheet of plastic wrap, shaping into a flat ball before wrapping and refrigerating for 30 minutes.
To make the cream pasticcera, beat the eggs & yolk lightly. Add sugar, sifted flour, butter and a pinch of salt until smooth. Place milk and cream in a saucepan, bring to the boil, stirring with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat.
While beating continuously (I use an old fashioned hand held beater for this one), gradually add the egg and sugar mixture to the hot milk mixture in the saucepan. Combine well. Return saucepan to low heat and whisk continuously for 3-5 minutes or until thick and smooth. I like to use a hand whisk & work briskly to avoid any lumps. Remove from heat and cool.
Preheat oven to moderate 180°C (350°F)
Roll out two thirds of the pastry on a lightly floured surface until 5mm thick. Some baking paper is good for this as you can then flip it over easily into the flan tin. Use to line base and side of a 23cm (9inch) tart tin with removable base. The ceramic tart tin pictured is an old fav of mine & 25cm in diameter, so this torta is not quite as high.
Evenly spread the cooled custard inside tart shell. Roll out remaining pastry and place on top of custard, pressing edge gently to seal and trim excess pastry.
Brush with beaten egg, sprinkle with pine nuts and bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden. Serve at room temperature - lightly dusted with icing sugar.
When living in Rome, that mad, magnificent city of ancient treasures, I uncovered a ‘piccolo tesoro italiano’, a little Italian treasure you won’t find in any of the guidebooks. It’s this silky, lovable dessert you should definitely add to your cake repertoire.
Once back on home soil, recreating a favourite dish from your travels - in the familiar comfort of your own kitchen - becomes a magical, nostalgic event don’t you think? Photos merely capture the scene. It’s the cuisine that transports us back with all our senses. Each meal, each recipe tells a story and unfolds a travel tale.
When I’m baking Torta della Nonna at home, I’m not present. I’m somewhere lungotevere - the tree-lined boulevard meandering Rome’s River Tiber, completely carefree. The only pressing decision afoot whether I should order my acqua gassata or naturale and have cappuccino or espresso. Perhaps detour and get lost in one of Trastevere’s winding cobblestone streets or hike up the Aventine Hill to marvel at the miniaturized view of St Peters through the Keyhole of the Knights of Malta. Maybe join the crowds, people watch in Piazzo del Popolo, window-shop in famously expensive Via dei Condotti or seek out tourists at La Bocca della Verita to test the mouth of truth.
Scusa! I'm back again. The Romans are the supreme rulers of making the most out of basic super-fresh ingredients. Us Aussies have certainly learned a lot from them. Ingredients that never failed to render me speechless in the narrow alleys of my local market. Produce grown in Lazio’s lush volcanic soil. Reminds me of the soil in fertile Northern New South Wales near Mt Warning, Australia’s own caldera.
I get the impression the best of Italian produce stays at home, strictly for personal enjoyment and that of loved ones. There's a lot to be said for that, don’t you think?
What a shame many Italians don’t make their delicious desserts at home. They have the recipes and the know-how but I discovered most prefer leaving sweets up to their local, highly skilled Pasticceria. There are several delectable versions of this torta across the ancient city’s pasticcerie and supermercati. Most often displayed in stylishly crowded shop windows and lovingly wrapped upon purchase. After all, it can’t just taste incredible. It must look the part too. Ready to make its grand entrance at pranzo - Sunday lunch with all the family. For all roads invariably lead home, to a long kitchen table bursting with vibrant faces, familiar flavours and rapid-fire conversations. All together at once, in local dialect, at break neck speed. Argh!
Taking sweets to an Italian lunch is a ritual far more meaningful than bringing along a bottle of wine, even when it’s an exceptional drop produced in Australia and lugged with care from the southern hemisphere. Taking wine to the Italians feels like carrying water to a well. I should have saved myself the trouble.
I was a little skeptical when I first laid eyes on Torta della Nonna. Would this dessert be just another custard tart - without the obligatory nutmeg sprinkle. No way! Torta della Nonna captures the senses at first bite. Its crunchy pine nut topping, light golden la pasticcera crema filling and perfectly fine pastry is buonissima! Right up there with Zia Nadia’s Torta di Arancia, Sardinian Orange Cake. But that’s another blogging day.
Great with cappuccino in the morning, espresso in the afternoon or encore with Sunday lunch. Attenzione! It's tough to stop at just one slice. I'm taking this one down to a friend's cafe in the morning. Safest bet.
'Amore, I'm just zipping down the shop for more pinenuts'. Truth No 3. I have an unrequited love for old creme vespas.