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Torta Della Nonna

Daring Kitchen
November 2016

Hello Daring Bakers and Cooks! My name is Ginger-Z and this is the first time I’ve hosted a challenge. I’ve been a member since 2013. I thoroughly enjoy the amazing talent (and patience) of many Daring Kitchen members. Each challenge I’ve participated in has helped me to become a better baker. I’m pleased to present this challenge: Torta Della Nonna (translated ‘Grandmother’s Cake’).

Oddly, Italian ‘torta’ translates to cake, often a dense, single layer cake. Many of the Italian cakes that are plain and simple highlight a regional/seasonal nut or fruit. This ‘torta’ however resembles a pie (pizze), (with or without a top crust) or a tart.

As I research this traditional Italian dessert, I realize that many regions in Italy claim this dessert as their invention. Perhaps this is a common phenomenon. It reminds me of the friendly banter between Australia and New Zealand during the Lamington challenge. I loved that. Each site offers a similar recipe: a pasta frolla (a sweet, eggy short dough) for the shell and a filling that is either a pastry cream (crema pasticceria) or sweetened (usually, but not always ricotta) cheese, topped with pine nuts (I’ve also seen almond slices) and dusted with powdered sugar. One more advanced version even had a Genoese sponge cake layer between the pasta frolla base and the filling (link at the end of this post for the truly Daring Baker). Some versions encase the filling with pasta frolla on the bottom, sides and top, while other versions use pasta frolla only on the bottom and sides. The vessel used to create Torta Della Nonna can be a tart pan, a springform pan (which I used) or a regular pie plate/pan. Many sites state that this recipe exemplifies comfort food. Because each region has different specialties (and local products available), it explains why there are multiple variations available. Although I am Italian, this dessert was not part of our family tradition, perhaps because my roots are in Southern Italy. The first time I tasted Torta Della Nonna was at a restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland some time ago. I hope you enjoy this challenge.

Recipe Source: Dolce Italiano, Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina DePalma (both the Pasta Frolla and the Pastry Cream)

You can find the recipe PDF here

The pastry cream recipe I’m presenting calls for a 9” / 23cm springform pan. I used an 8” / 20cm springform pan (I didn’t have a 9 / 23cm”).

There will be left over Pasta Frolla as the recipe presented makes one 10” / 25cm tart shell.

Use room temperature eggs and room temperature heavy cream when assembling the Pasta Frolla.

Use room temperature eggs and butter when assembling the pastry cream.

Although this was not necessary, I used a stand mixer with a whisk attachment to whisk the egg yolks, sugar and salt as well as whisking in the hot milk mixture a little bit at a time. Once the mixture was transferred back to the saucepan, I used a hand whisk. There was quite a bit of foam (from the stand mixer whisking) that dissipated once the mixture was heated.

I toasted the pine nuts in a small frying pan on the stovetop for 3 minutes at medium high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.

The Pasta Frolla recipe I’m presenting creates a very soft dough. If you work slow (like I do) or if you live in a hot and humid climate, you may need to refrigerate the dough after rolling it out between parchment paper.

The Pasta Frolla is easy to repair if a tear or hole forms while you are installing it. Just patch it with a leftover scrap of dough.

When prepping the Pasta Frolla, I cut the butter on waxed paper into ¼” cubes as directed and placed the butter rolled up in the waxed paper in the freezer until I’m ready to use it.

I buttered and floured the springform pan prior to installing the Pasta Frolla.

Preparation time:

Pasta Frolla: 30 minutes prep; 2 hours, 40 minutes refrigeration; 22 minutes baking
Pastry Cream: 30 minutes prep; 45 minutes cooking, whisking, straining; several hours refrigeration; 10 minute assembly

Equipment required:
Food processor, recommended but not required
Mixer with whisk attachment, not required
Balloon hand whisk
Pie plate/pan, tart pan with or without removable bottom, or springform pan
Measuring cups, spoons
Wooden spoon
Mixing bowls
Rolling pin
Fine mesh sieve/strainer
Large, shallow bowl
Citrus zester (or a small paring knife)
Off set spatula
Rubber spatulas
Pie weights or beans
Parchment paper
Plastic wrap
Waxed paper, optional (I used wax paper to cube the butter, roll up and place in freezer)
Foil, as a barrier between the shell and the weights when baking, optional (I used parchment paper)

Recipe 1: Pasta Frolla

Servings: Makes one 10" / 25cm tart shell


2 1/3 cups / 290g unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup / 65g granulated sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt or 1/4 tsp fine salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon or 1 small orange
3/4 cup / 1 1/2 sticks / 170g / 6 oz unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/4" / 1/2cm cubes
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup / 60ml / 2 fl oz heavy cream
a few drops of ice water, if necessary


Place the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and citrus zest in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to combine the dry ingredients. Add all of the cold, cubed butter to the bowl and pulse to process the mixture until it is sandy and there are no visible lumps of butter.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk, vanilla extract, and heavy cream. Add the wet ingredients to the food processor and pulse 3 or 4 times, or until the dough comes together. If necessary, add some ice water, a few drops at a time to make the dough come together.

Remove the dough from the food processor and work it with your hands to even out any dry and wet spots. Form the dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill until firm 1 to 2 hours before rolling it out. You can also freeze the dough, well wrapped, for up to 2 months.

Recipe 2: Torta Della Nonna Pastry Cream (Crema Pasticceria)

Servings: Makes one 9" / 23cm tart, 8 to 10 servings


2 cups / 480ml / 16 fl oz whole milk
Two 3" / 8cm long strips freshly peeled lemon zest
1/2 vanilla bean
5 Tbsp granulated sugar, divided- 3Tbsp + 2 Tbsp / 40g + 25g
4 large egg yolks
pinch of kosher salt
1/4 cup/ 30g unbleached all purpose flour
1 Tbsp / 15g unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup / 65g pine nuts, toasted and cooled
Powdered sugar to garnish
Bittersweet chocolate, for garnish (optional)


Pasta Frolla assembly

Remove the tart dough from the refrigerator. Roll the tart dough on a floured surface to a 1/8" / 3mm thickness. (I rolled my dough between two pieces of parchment and placed it in the refrigerator to firm up.)

Place a 9" / 23cm springform pan on top of the dough. Using a small knife, trace a circle around the outside of the pan, leaving an extra 3/4" / 2cm all around.

Place the circle of dough inside the springform pan and press it onto the bottom and sides. (Save the scraps for another use.) The dough should come up about 3/4" / 2cm around the sides. Pierce the bottom with a fork. Cover with plastic wrap and place the pan in the refrigerator to chill for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F / 175°C / Gas Mark 4 and position the rack in the center of the oven.

Pastry Cream assembly

While the tart shell is chilling, prepare the filling. Place the milk and lemon zest in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the ½ vanilla bean with the flat side of a small knife and add the seeds and the bean to the pan. Stir in 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and place the saucepan over medium heat.

Meanwhile, place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and whisk them with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and the salt. When the milk mixture begins to boil, remove it from the heat. Quickly whisk the flour into the yolks, then whisk in a few splashes of the milk mixture. Gradually add more milk mixture, whisking constantly to remove any lumps.

Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking constantly until it has thickened enough to mound when it falls from the whisk.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and strain it through a fine mesh sieve to remove the zest, vanilla bean, and any lumps of cooked egg.

Transfer the pastry cream to a large, shallow bowl and whisk in the butter. Then press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface to prevent a skin from forming.

After the tart shell has chilled for at least 20 minutes, tear a large sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper and press it against the entire surface of the shell. Fill the shell with pie shell weights or dried beans or rice to cover the surface of the foil or paper.

Blind bake the tart shell for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the foil or paper and the weights and return the shell to the oven, baking it for an additional 5 to 7 minutes or until it is light golden brown.

Torta Della Nonna Assembly

Remove the tart shell from the oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes.

Pour the pastry cream into the still warm pie shell, smoothing the top with a spatula.

Allow the pastry cream and shell to cool completely so the cream sets into the shell. Then cover with plastic wrap and transfer the tart to the refrigerator to chill.

To serve, carefully remove the sides of the springform pan and transfer the tart to an attractive serving plate.

Scatter the toasted pine nuts across the top and garnish with powdered sugar or finely grated bittersweet chocolate.

Serve cold or at room temperature. Wrapped in plastic, leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for a few days if it lasts that long.

Storage & Freezing Instructions/Tips:
The pre-baked Pasta Frolla dough can be frozen, well wrapped for up to 2 months. Leftover Torta Della Nonna will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.

Additional Information: Here are some additional recipes:

Ricotta version: (recommends goat cheese ricotta)

Alternate cheese version: (uses goat cheese, mascarpone and cream cheese)

Pastry cream version: (shell encases cream) (uses a Genoese sponge layer) (made without heavy equipment)


The Daring Kitchen and its members in no way suggest we are medical professionals and therefore are NOT responsible for any error in reporting of “alternate baking/cooking”. If you have issues with digesting gluten, then it is YOUR responsibility to research the ingredient before using it. If you have allergies, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure any ingredient in a recipe will not adversely affect you. If you are lactose intolerant, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure any ingredient in a recipe will not adversely affect you. If you are vegetarian or vegan, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure any ingredient in a recipe will not adversely affect you. The responsibility is YOURS regardless of what health issue you’re dealing with. Please consult your physician with any questions before using an ingredient you are not familiar with. Thank you! Smile

Dolce Italiano, Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen
Gina DePalma