Torta della Nonna

The holidays were over a month ago, and since then we’ve dutifully refrained from sweets in favor of healthy meals and modest portions.  But 5 weeks is enough, right?

When we saw the recipe for Torta della Nonna in this week’s newsletter from La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese, we were drawn in.  It’s the perfect weekend to turn on the oven and warm up kitchen, to fill the house with the fragrant, lemony-sweet aroma of pasta frolla baking, and to bring our Sunday evening to a close over a delicious and delicate homemade torta.

Torta is a tricky word to translate.  Sometimes it means cake, and when it does, it is pretty straight-forward.  Other times, however, a torta is closer to a tart or a pie.  Torta della Nonna falls into this latter category.  Prepared in a tart pan, it has a base of pasta frolla,  followed by a creamy filling, and topped with pine nuts.

But let’s take things one step at a time.  Pasta frolla is common crust or base for many Italian baked goods.  La Cucina Italiana calls it “short crust pastry” in English, but it is also commonly called shortbread.  It’s not quite the same as shortbread, but the comparison is understandable.  A good pasta frolla will be golden, soft and just slightly crisp, and it will have a delicate, not-too-sweet flavor.

There are different versions of the filling for Torta della Nonna.  Traditionally, the recipe calls for crema pasticcera, or Italian pastry cream, with a second layer of pasta frolla on top.  However, an alternative version calls for a ricotta-based filling.  This is how the recipe from La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese was written, and being amanti of ricotta-based baked goods, this the option that we chose.

In all cases, Torta della Nonna is adorned with a layer of pine nuts before baking, and then a sprinkling of powdered sugar upon exiting the oven.

As we’ve said before, Italian pastries and baked goods are lighter, more delicate and less sweet than desserts in many other countries of the world.  In Italy, homemade baked goods are also characterized by simple, high quality ingredients.  Torta della Nonna, which mean’s Grandmother’s Tart or Grandmother’s Pie, is a perfect example of this.  For our Torta della Nonna we used organic, cage-free eggs, King Arthur Italian type-00 flour, extra-fine sugar, and fresh, whole milk ricotta.

Ingredients
For the pasta frolla
200 g (1 and 1/2 cup) flour
80 g (1/3 cup) sugar
80 g (5 and 1/2 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 pouch of Pane Angeli lievito per i dolci, or 2 tsp. baking powder
1 egg
Zest of 1 lemon

For the filling
250 g (1 cup, firmly packed) fresh whole milk ricotta
2 eggs
80 g (1/3 cup) sugar
25 g (2 Tbsp) corn starch
Zest of 1 lemon

For the topping
40 g (1/4 cup) pine nuts
Powdered sugar

Directions
Prepare the pasta frolla by placing the flour onto a firm, smooth work surface.  Add the sugar and pane angeli or baking powder, and mix.  Gather the dry ingredients into a mound and form a well in the middle.  Add the egg, cubes of butter and lemon zest, and working quickly with your fingers, work the wet ingredients into the flour mixture.  Mix by hand until the dough forms a homogenous, smooth ball.  Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C) and prepare the filling by mixing the ricotta, eggs, sugar, corn starch and lemon zest together with a wire whisk until smooth.

Butter and flour a 9-11 inch or 26-28 cm. fluted-edge tart pan.  If you cannot find a tart pan, a round spring-form pan or a pie plate, will also work, although it is helpful to have a pan with a removable bottom.

Roll out the pasta frolla and lay it into the tart pan, pressing the bottom and sides tightly against the edges.  Pour the filling into the shell, and sprinkle the pine nuts over the top.

Bake at 350° F (180° C) for 30-35 minutes, just until the center is firm and does not wiggle when you gently shake the pan.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes, and use a tea strainer to sprinkle a layer of powdered sugar on top.

Download a pdf of the recipe Torta della Nonna