Torta della Nonna
Grandmother’s Tart. “There is no recipe, we just make it!” came the response from an enthusiastic restaurant owner after our first meal in Florence a few years ago. I had requested the recipe for a very close relation, some may even say the husband of this tart – Torta di Nonno or Grandfather’s Tart. He then explained that you start as if making the Torta della Nonna and although I listened intently to the end, I couldn’t help but be confused having never heard of Torta della Nonna before! When we came home I started researching both tarts and trying different recipes. The Torta della Nonna is a sweet pastry tart filled with lemon scented custard and topped with pine nuts while it’s husband is the same pastry tart filled with chocolate custard and topped with almonds. Although the Nonno has it’s place, it is the Nonna that I fell for.
There are numerous stories about how this tart came into being but the most accepted version is that a chef in Florence, Guido Samorini served it to placate diners who were bored of his one-dimensional desserts. Samorini may just be the man who brought it back into the public consciousness however as about one hundred years before this, Pellegrino Artusi has a passage in one of his many bookes claiming “I found the tart with pine nuts and custard a pleasant mess.” Personally I don’t really mind whether it’s 150 or 50 years old, I love it and served it as the dessert at The Kinneagh Kitchen Pop-Up Restaurant at Ubh back in October.
For the Pastry:
450g Plain Flour
150g Caster Sugar
175g Butter (cut into small cubes)
zest of 1 Organic Lemon
2 Eggs + 1 Egg Yolk (lightly beaten together)
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
For the Filling:
1 Litre of Milk
peel of 1 Organic Lemon (in one piece)
6 Egg Yolks
1.5 tsp of Vanilla Extract
For the Top:
Milk for brushing
3 tbsp Pine Nuts
Whipped Cream to serve
1 x 28cm fluted tart tin
First make the pastry. Combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the butter and, using the tips of your fingers and thumbs, rub into the flour until the mix looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Ensure the butter is well combined before adding the eggs, lemon zest and vanilla extract. Mix well to bring it together. Do not overwork the pastry as it will become tough. If the pastry seems a bit dry you can add a tablespoon or two of milk. If it’s too wet, add a little flour. Cut the pastry into two pieces, one 2/3 and the other 1/3. Wrap the pastry separately in cling film and refrigerate for at least one hour (or overnight).
Meanwhile make the custard filling. Put the milk into a saucepan with the lemon peel and bring to just below the boil. Immediately turn off the heat and allow the flavours to infuse for 30 minutes. Add the egg yolks, sugar, flour and vanilla extract to a large pan and whisk until light and fluffy.
Discard the lemon peel from the milk and pour a little into the whisked ingredients. Whisk until smooth. Put the custard onto a medium low heat and slowly add the rest of the milk while whisking all of the time. Slowly bring the custard to the boil, stirring constantly. Turn the heat down to low and, stirring constantly, allow the custard to cook for a couple of minutes until thickened. Pour the custard into a large bowl and cover the top with cling film, pressing it down onto the mix to stop a skin from forming.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. (conventional) or 160 degrees C. (fan). Roll out the larger of the two pieces of dough to roughly 4 cm bigger than the base of the tin. It is a difficult dough to work with so don’t be too hard on yourself. Use plenty of flour on the work surface and flour your rolling pin too.
Using the rolling pin to help, move the pastry to the tart tin. Although this pastry is tough to work with, it is very easy to fix any tears with your fingers. Ensure the tart tin is well lined with a decent amount of pastry at the sides to stick to the lid. Trim the edges and pierce the inside of the tart with the prongs of a fork. Roll out the remaining pastry for the lid.
Pour in the custard and spread out so that it covers the entire tart. Keep the level of the custard just below the height of the tart to stop it spilling out while baking. Brush the rim of the pastry case with milk and carefully place the pastry lid on top – this isn’t as easy to fix if it tears! Gently apply pressure around the edges to stick the lid to the rim of the base. Cut away any excess.
Brush the top of the tart with milk and sprinkle over the pine nuts, pressing down slightly. Cook on a lower shelf in the oven for approximately 45 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Remove the tart from the tin and refrigerate for an hour or two before dusting with icing sugar. Serve with whipped cream, spiked with Amaretto if you wish.