Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Torta Della Nonna

Torta Della Nonna translated means grandmothers cake, not my grandmothers cake but a grandmothers cake, it is a classic Tuscan dessert, and a huge favourite of mine. I'm not usually a dessert lover and I have an extremely savoury tooth, but I do find myself making desserts or sweet treats daily for my husband who is a total sweet addict. This is a dessert that finds a happy balance for the both of us, it is not too sweet and the heady flavour of vanilla permeating the soft set custard centre is a comforting and familiar flavour, like a tight hug when you need it the most. I know there will be British purists who will stress that a Classic British custard tart cannot be beaten, but I am willing to brave the criticism and put it out there that the Torta Della Nonna wipes the floor with our Anglo custard tart. Italians have a knack of using very little ingredients and turning it into what can only be described as a master piece. It's about style over content and in this case less is more. This is a very simple tart to make, even if you are a pastry novice, it is perfect to wow friends or to be eaten whilst curled up on the sofa with a glass of red in hand. A perfect pud.

You will need
For the pastry:
400g of plain flour
200g of cold butter
1 pinch of salt
4 extra large egg yolks
150g of icing sugar
1 vanilla pod, split and the seeds scraped out
To decorate
3 tablespoons of pine nuts 
Icing sugar

If you have a food processor put all the ingredients into it and pulse until they are combined and resemble a dough, take out of the processor and knead for a minute and wrap in cling film and place into the fridge for an hour to firm up. If you do not have a food processor, rub the butter, flour and sugar in a bowl, rubbing it between your thumb and fingers until they resemble bread crumbs, add the yolks, vanilla and salt a mix until the dough starts to come together, wrap and place in the fridge.

For the filling:
8 egg yolks
2 vanilla pods split and seeds scraped out
250g of vanilla caster sugar
2 pints of whole milk
the zest of one unwaxed lemon
a tablespoon of good quality lemon curd
80g of plain flour
2 tsp vanilla extract
Place a large saucepan on a medium heat and warm the milk, lemon zest and curd, sugar, vanilla pods and seeds and extract, heat the milk mixture until just simmering. In a large bowl separate the yolks from the whites (save your whites in the freezer for meringues) and pour half of the hot milk over the yolks whilst whisking continuously. Then whisk in the flour until it is fully incorporated and there are no lumps, add this back to the remaining milk in the pan and continue to whisk and cook on a medium heat for a further 10-15 minutes until it is the thickness of hollandaise sauce or thickened cream. Sieve the filling into a bowl to remove the vanilla pods and any lumps that may be left behind. Place a piece of cling film directly onto the custard to prevent a skin forming and allow to cool in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.
Butter a 9 inch loose bottom tart tin. Using half of the dough roll it out between two pieces of greaseproof paper until it is large enough to fit into the tin. Don't worry if it breaks, you can patch this up with any left over pastry. Leave any excess pastry to hang over the sides as the lid will adhere to this later. Make sure there are no holes or cracks in the bottom of tart by patching up any cracks with scraps of excess pastry. Empty the cold filling into the pastry case. Using the other half of the dough roll out the lid between the greaseproof paper pieces just like we did for the base, when you have a round that will fit the top of the pie carefully peel back the paper and place the disc on top of the pie to form a lid. To secure the lid roll over the edges with a rolling pin as this will stick both sides together. Scatter the pine nuts over the top and place in the oven to bake for 40-45 minutes, until the top is firm and the nuts are golden. Once cooled refrigerate for at least a couple of hours. Before serving dust heavily with icing sugar.

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