A delicious perfumed lemon custard wrapped around a crumbly and delicate pastry and finished off with crunchy pinenuts: this is "La torta della nonna" or Grandma's cake, a very popular Italian cake so good that it is often served in patisseries and Italian restaurants too.
This cake drives me insane: I cannot stop cutting slice after slice.. it is like if, for a few seconds, life is on hold when the pastry combined with the custard simply melts in your mouth. The power of food eh?
I don't think this cake is particularly difficult to make, there are simple basic steps to follow when you make shortcrust pastry like the butter and the eggs should come straight from the fridge and you should not overwork the pastry with your hands to avoid overheating it. If you are expecting special visitors this cake will be a good one to go for, it certainly has that wow factor.
I am planning to make a few more treats this month, with the festivities ahead I am in "baking mood" and the children are super excited as always, between school concerts, putting up Christmas decorations and going to parties whilst I keep busy making lasagne, risotti, stews and soups to keep us warm and comfy in this chilly weather.
Happy days to remember.
- Prep Time : 40 minutes
- Cook Time : 60 minutes
- Yield : 6
- For the pastry:
- plain flour sieved - 400 g - 3 + ⅔ cup + extra to sprinkle
- baking powder - 1 tsp
- eggs - 3
- sugar - 150 g - ¾ cup
- butter - 150 g - ⅔ cup
- lemon zest - of 1 lemon
- For the custard:
- milk - 500 ml - 1 + 1/2 fl oz
- sugar - 100 g - 1/2 cup
- egg yolks - 4
- lemon zest - of 1 lemon
- plain flour - 30 g - ⅓ cup
- vanilla essence - 1 tsp
- To finish off:
- pine nuts - 3 tbsp
- vanilla powdered sugar - to sprinkle
Cut the butter in small pieces, add it to the flour and using a mixer quickly whiz for a few seconds until you get a "sandy" consistency. Put the mixture on your worktop, add the egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest and quickly knead all the ingredients forming a smooth ball. If the pastry feels too sticky add a little more flour. Don't overwork your pastry. Roll it in cling film and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
In the meantime let's make the custard.
With a knife slice the lemon zest making sure you don't slice the white of the lemon which is bitter.
Bring the milk to the boil with the lemon zest then remove the zest.
Combine the egg yolks with the sugar, add the flour, the vanilla essence and mix well. Slowly add the warm milk to the egg mixture whilst mixing all the time.
Bring to the boil over a gentle heat stirring all the time. Let it boil for 3 minutes until the mixture has thickened. Set aside and let the custard cool down. Stir it from time to time as it cools down to avoid the formation of a skin on top.
Preheat the oven at 160C or 320F.
Grease a round pie tray with butter of a diameter measuring approx 25 cm or 10 inch. I suggest using a removable bottom one.
On a floured surface thinly roll 2/3 of the dough and line the bottom and the sides of the pie tray. The easiest way to do this is to cut out a circle of pastry slighly larger than your mold then roll the pastry on the rolling pin and unroll it onto the baking tray. Press well the pastry onto the mold and cut off any eccess dough. Prickle the bottom with a fork.
Bake it in the hot oven for 10 minutes.
Pour the custard filling onto the pastry.
Roll out the remaining dough, cut a 25 cm or 10 inch circle then place it over the filling.
Make sure you seal well, use any excess dough for this. Scatter the pine nuts on top, if you wet them a little with water you will avoid them burning during cooking.
Bake in a ventilated oven for 50 minutes at 160C until the tart looks nice and golden. If it gets too brown on top cover it with tinfoil and continue cooking it.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Let it cool down before serving.
Just so so good!
TIP: I always like to add a drop of rum or brandy to my custard. Add it as it cooks so the alcohol will evaporate whilst adding a beautiful perfumed aroma to your custard.