When I went to Italy last fall, the first dessert I had in a proper sit-down restaurant was the Torta della Nonna: Crema pasticcera layered between a top and bottom pate sucree-like crust, topped with pignoli and a generous dusting of zuccero al velo. The restaurant, a neighborhood trattoria around the corner from my Florence hotel, was about as homey as you could ask for. And on a chilly evening (after a carbonara worthy of many international texts), the waiter brought over the torta (complimenti della casa) and from the first bite, I was hooked. When I was down to my last forkful, the waiter came by; I told him I was sad because the dessert was almost over. He gently took my fork and divided that last bite into two micro-bites. “Due morsi,” he said with a smile. (That concept of “two bites” came to define my experience of Florence.)
When I got home, torta della nonna was the first thing I wanted to bake. But I held off. I wanted it to be a pure experience – which, for me, meant I wanted to bake it from an authentic Italian ricetta written in authentic Italian. Just about one year later, I made it.
The recipe: Torta della Nonna
The crust: Pastry continues to be my culinary rovina (bête noire). It simply doesn’t like to work for me. Pate sucree is a particular challenge: I have never successfully rolled it, it’s always a patch job of scraps layered and smoothed into the dish. This was no different. I assembled the bottom crust in pieces and for the top, I rolled it between waxed paper sheets and chilled it for 10 minutes. It worked, but it took work to achieve and it was, in the end, too thick. The crusts I had in Italy were very thin. Mine was about 1/8-inch and a bit like al dente pasta. (The ricetta did not call for blind baking the bottom crust, but next time I will because the pastry gives me such a hard time.)
The crema pasticcera: Friends, I could live on this and it’s something I can make in my sleep. The ricetta asked for farina rather than cornstarch as a thickener; it also called for what, in my opinion, was a huge amount of zucchero. The flavor was terrific (if sweet) with the lovely limona and vaniglia notes. The texture was a bit off, not super smooth like you get with cornstarch. Next time I would dial up the limona and vaniglia, cut the zucchero by a third, and use cornstarch in the crema.
Finish: Super easy, especially if you’re a dab hand with the crust. The downside is that you absolutely have to let the torta cool completely and then chill a bit before cutting. I could not wait and my portion, while tasty, was not at all pretty.
This ricetta makes a large 10-inch dessert. That’s alotta torta. I’ve got half in the freezer, will report back on how it holds up. With a bit more practice, I think Torta della Nonna will become a spring dinner party staple. Ciao!