Torta della Nonna

March 18, 2016
3 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Makes 1 cake (serves 10)
Test Kitchen Notes

This recipe was translated from —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • Shortbread (Pasta Frolla)
  • 400 grams flour (00 is best!)
  • 150 grams powdered sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 200 grams butter
  • 1 fresh vanilla bean, scraped
  • Pastry Cream
  • 1 liter whole milk
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 250 grams granulated sugar
  • 1/2 lemon, zested
  • 80 grams flour
  • 1 fresh vanilla bean
  • 120 grams pinoli (topping)
  • Powdered sugar for sprinkling on top
  1. Prepare the shortbread. Place flour, powdered sugar, vanilla, butter, and salt in a food processor. Pulse several times until mixed well. Transfer ingredients into large bowl, creating a well in the center for your eggs.
  2. Using a fork (or your hands!) begin incorporating eggs into your flour mixture. Once everything has formed into a shaggy mass, transfer the dough onto a floured work surface and knead well. The dough should be smooth! Split the dough into two disks: one with 2/3 of the dough and the other with 1/3. Wrap well in plastic wrap and allow dough to rest in the refrigerator while you prepare your pastry cream.
  3. To prepare the pastry cream, place a large pot on the stove with milk, take the vanilla bean and carefully, with the back end of a knife, extract the seeds by scraping. Add the seeds and the vanilla pod to the milk and on low heat, bring the milk to a low simmer. As soon as the milk begins simmering, remove from heat to allow the milk to infuse with the vanilla bean. This should only take about 5 to 7 minutes max.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large bowl and with an electric mixer, beat your egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow and smooth and slightly fluffy. Gradually add sifted flour and lemon zest.
  5. Remove the vanilla pod from the milk and add the mixture with eggs. Do this little by little while constantly whisking your egg mixture so as not to scramble your eggs! Return the entire mixture to the stove on low heat, whisking constantly to thicken the mixture. This will happen all at once, so be on watch! When the cream is very thick, turn off the heat and, using a spatula, empty into a low, wide bowl. Allow it to cool for 30 minutes, then cover it so the surface is in contact with plastic wrap, so that it does not create a skin. Transfer to a refrigerator. This can be kept in a refrigerator for up to 3 days and can be frozen for up to 2 months.
  6. Remove the dough from the fridge, allow it to come to room temperature. Taking the larger disk of dough, roll it out into a circle that will cover a 9-inch pan. For this, I use a tart pan with a bottom that's easily removed. Springform pans work well too! Butter and flour the pan. Make sure that the dough is large enough to line the pan (covering the sides generously). Wrap the dough onto your rolling pin and unroll it onto the cake pan, pressing it gently down into the pan and being sure to cover the pan's bottom and sides.
  7. Remove the excess pastry using a sharp paring knife. With a fork, dock the surface of the dough and pour in the pastry cream, using a spatula to make a slight mound in the center (this will help it from collapsing after baking). Roll out your remaining pastry in a disk just a bit larger than your pan. Again, transfer the dough by wrapping onto your rolling pin and unroll over your dreamy cream mountain.
  8. Create a nice seal on the cake by pinching the edges of the crust closed. You can decorate these as you'd like—and be sure to dock the top crust with a fork. Brush the entire surface of the crust with an egg wash (egg and water, or egg and milk if you prefer). Sprinkle generously with pinoli and bake at 356° F (180° C) for 45 to 50 minutes.
  9. Allow the cake to cool before serving. Finish with a generous dusting of powdered sugar, like any good Italian dessert. You can also refrigerate this completely; it's just as delicious.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Colleen Bonpane Londoño
    Colleen Bonpane Londoño
  • Jane Katz
    Jane Katz
  • Donna Bowen
    Donna Bowen
  • jamcook
  • Christopher L. Van Hooser
    Christopher L. Van Hooser

32 Reviews

Gayle J. September 5, 2022
My torta looked just like the photos but when I cut into this masterpiece I encountered a flood of pastry cream. I cooked it until it thickened and tasted for any floury taste. Anybody, what did I do wrong. Docking? not baked long enough? I baked in a 9-inch springform. Gorgeous to behold but after cutting, it was necessary to use a bowl!
flor C. January 10, 2020
Excellent recipe !! pretty easy to follow and the final result was amazing.
Colleen B. January 1, 2018
can you give a time estimate of how long it should take for the milk mixture to thicken? I stirred it for a long time and it never thickened-?
rebelchanteuse April 11, 2017
This torta is delicious! Grazie mille to the nonna who created it. I actually found the recipe quite easy to follow (though I did look up the original Italian recipe to make sure the crust should only use the seeds of the vanilla pod -- since it went in the food processor, it was reasonable to think that the pod would break up and the recipe was unclear. Only the seeds should be used.). I used a springform pan so I had to fold the edges of the crust over each other. I was concerned that it was so thick it wouldn't fully bake, but it was perfect. I definitely recommend placing whatever you bake this in on a rimmed cookie sheet -- lots of butter escaped from my crust. Also, thanks for the link to the Italian website -- I know enough Italian to follow a recipe and look forward to trying some new recipes!
Carol B. April 6, 2016
Sounds absolutely WONDERFUL! Make it and share!
Jane K. April 6, 2016
this looks awesome, Rebecca!
Nikki April 5, 2016
Sounds good. You won't have to make it for yourself though, right?
Donna B. April 5, 2016
Looks terrific, I'm willing to sacrifice my healthy diet once in awhile for a recipe like this. Im thinking Mother's Day!
jamcook April 5, 2016
Love the site, , and loved the article., and I am sure to love the cake. But it should be the policy of food 52 to include both weight and volume recipes in all featured recipes.
bittersweet April 5, 2016
Loved your wonderful story, Rebecca, and all the family photos. My nonna from Apulia was a great cook, but also never baked, so all sweets came from the bakery, which led me to become the family baker.
I'm going to try this recipe but have a question about the pignoli nuts. I was wondering if baking them atop the cake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes would be too much heat for them. I'm tempted to try adding them half way through the time, but they look fine on your cake.
Christopher L. April 5, 2016
If it was so easy to convert why didn't the writer do it
Rebecca S. April 5, 2016
Hi there Christopher!
I chose to leave the measurements in grams (not for sake of ease) but, because I wanted to ensure it's the most accurate/precise translation of the Giallo Zafferano recipe. When you do end up converting you'll actually note that there is a slight difference. I know it's a little confusing to work in grams but, as other members posted you can find many resources for it. Plus, I really wanted to make you work for this dessert :) It pays off.
Lisa K. April 23, 2016
My question would be why your measurements are different than the ones from the recipe from which you translated:
Rebecca S. April 23, 2016
Hi there Lisa! That's actually not the recipe I referenced as you can see the instructions are completely different as well! It's so odd, the website must have taken down the other recipe. I have no explaination for that, so sorry.
Lisa K. April 23, 2016
I will totally give your recipe a whirl and report back. I love torta della nonna.
Nikki April 4, 2016
Thank you Soooo much. I appreciate it.
Sharon W. April 4, 2016
I'm on my way to work, but if no one else can do the conversion, I will do it and post tomorrow.
Nikki April 4, 2016
Yes, I am not good with grams and those measurements either. Can't you just give the measurements in cups and tea/tablespoons? Thank you.
Sharon W. April 4, 2016
Although I am Sicilian, and I love anything Italian, when I inut this recipe into my recipe software, I gasped! 689 calories per serving - yikes
Amy B. April 4, 2016
About the amount of sugar in the pastry cream: Sugar is heavy - 250 grams is a hair less than 1 1/4 cups. This amount is going into slightly more than a quart(4 cups) of milk, 8 egg yolks, and flour. For comparison, Julia's recipe for creme patissiere (The French Chef Cookbook) uses 1/2 cup sugar, 2 cups of milk, 6 egg yolks, and the requisite flour. So the Nonna Cake simply doubles Julia's recipe. No excessive sugar here.
jamcook April 4, 2016
Could you please also give volume measurements for those without Kitchen scales. Thanks
Nikki April 4, 2016
Yes, please.
"Dock with fork"? I assume it means poke holes?
Caroline L. April 4, 2016
Hi Judith! It does! You just prick the unbaked crust all over with a fork, which lets steam escape, helping the crust lay flat once it's baked.
Babette's S. April 4, 2016
EDITORS, WHERE ARE YOU??? Can't believe the sugar amount has not yet been corrected in the Pastry Cream part of the recipe! 150 g / 2/3 cup???
A. April 4, 2016
What is 00 flour? Will all-purpose flour work?
Rebecca S. April 4, 2016
"00" (doppio zero) flour is a common flour in Italy used for pasta making and is excellent for some doughs. It refers to how finely it's ground. It's a preference! You're fine to use all purpose flour here.