Italian desserts: Grandmother’s tart (torta della nonna)

A classic custard tart that is said to have been invented by a Florentine chef. Today it’s a much-loved dessert that all Florentine pastry shops make. You can substitute slivers of blanched almonds for the pine nuts if you wish.

grandmother's tart
Lauren Bamford

SERVES 8

50g pine nuts
1 1⁄2 quantities sweet shortcrust pastry (see below)
Milk or water, for brushing
Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)

PASTRY CREAM
4 egg yolks
120g granulated sugar
30g cornflour
500ml whole milk, warmed
Zest of 1 lemon

  1. For the pastry cream, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a mixing bowl until pale. Stir in the cornflour. Put the mixture in a saucepan over a low heat and add the warm milk, little by little, stirring between each addition.
  2. Add the lemon zest. Stir continuously with a whisk or a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes smooth and thick, about 10 minutes. You are looking for a consistency similar to mayonnaise (when cool, it will also firm up further). Do not let it boil – remove from the heat at the very first sign of a bubble.
  3. Remove the pastry cream from the heat. Prepare an ice bath and cool the pastry cream quickly by transferring to a mixing bowl set over the ice water. Cover with clingfilm, making sure that the plastic is touching the surface of the pastry cream so it doesn’t develop a skin. Keep in the fridge until needed.
  4. When ready to make the tart, preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Soak the pine nuts in cold water for 10 minutes, then drain. This will stop them from burning in the oven.
  5. Roll out two-thirds of the rested pastry dough and line a 23cm pie dish. Place a sheet of baking paper over the top of the pastry and place weights such as baking beans (or uncooked rice) on top. Blind bake for 10 minutes, then remove the paper and beans and let the pastry cool.
  6. Fill the cooled pie crust with the pastry cream. Roll out the rest of the dough to about 2mm thick and place over the top of the tart, trimming the edges. This will shrink a little so leave about 5mm overhang and seal. Brush the top with milk or water and scatter with the drained pine nuts.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. When cool, dust with icing sugar (if desired) and serve at room temperature.

TIP As this requires one and a half quantities of the shortcrust pastry, I find it easiest to just double the pastry recipe and save the leftovers for making mini tarts or even simple cut-out cookies. It also freezes well so you can save it for later.

Sweet shortcrust pastry

This is adapted from Pellegrino Artusi’s 1891 cookbook, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

125g cold unsalted butter
250g plain flour
80g granulated sugar
1 whole egg, plus 1 egg yolk, beaten (you could save the white to brush the pastry)
Zest of 1 lemon

  1. Chop the cold butter into small pieces. If using a food processor, pulse the butter, flour and sugar until you have a crumbly, sandy texture and there are no more visible pieces of butter. If mixing by hand, rub the butter into the flour and sugar until you achieve the desired result.
  2. Mix in the beaten egg and yolk along with the lemon zest until the pastry comes together into a smooth, elastic ball. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Now buy the book

Torta della NonnaOur recipes are from Torta Della Nonna by food writer Emiko Davies (Hardie Grant, £16.99). Emiko has lived in Florence for more than a decade and the book is a collection of some of her beloved Italian desserts. To order a copy for £14.95 until 28 March, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free p&p on orders over £20.