Torta della Nonna is a simple, rustic Italian dessert that is loved throughout Italy!
This homely tart consists of lemony, tender shortcrust filled with a luscious Italian pastry cream and is an absolutely ideal way to end any meal!!
This updated post was first published here on December 12, 2016.
Why you’ll love this recipe
Torta della Nonna literally translates to “grandmother’s cake” and conjures up visions of a cute, smiling nonna pottering away in her kitchen making her special cake for grandchildren. However, this Italian custard pie was actually first created in a restaurant kitchen and went on to become wildly popular!
I can totally understand why this torta is enjoyed so much. The shortcrust pastry is amazing - lightly crisp and supremely tender with a hint of lemon.
But the star of the show is definitely the filling. Rich, smooth and creamy with glorious ooze thanks to the generous use of egg yolks and whole milk. A lot like vanilla custard or pudding but so much better!!
Just like biscotti, chocolate budino or panna cotta, Torta della Nonna uses good, basic ingredients that you’ll find in most kitchens. Nothing fancy. The pleasure is all in the eating.
Using a food processor means the shortcrust pastry is a breeze to make but you’ll also find instructions for making it by hand. Plus, I’ll give you all my tips for making the perfect Italian pastry cream filling.
Whether you’re serving tagliatelle with garlic butter sauce or Italian chicken cutlets, finishing with this Italian custard tart will complete the meal perfectly!! Your guests will be begging for the recipe!
For complete ingredient quantities and full instructions, please scroll to the printable recipe card bottom of the page.
- Milk - Whole, full fat milk is my preferred choice here. You could substitute low fat or non dairy milk but you won’t achieve that creamy, richness that whole milk provides. So for the best results, please follow my suggestion. For extra richness, substitute ½ cup of milk for cream.
- Vanilla Extract - I like extract because it’s easy, no fuss and gives good flavor. Use real vanilla extract, not an imitation. If you prefer, split a vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the milk instead.
- Egg Yolks - Just the yolks are needed for this recipe and you’ll use them in both the filling and the crust. Why not make my delicious egg white frittata, pavlova or raspberry torte with the leftovers?
- Sugar - Again, sugar is used in both filling and crust. I much prefer white, superfine (castor) sugar because it dissolves so easily and doesn’t leave any grittiness. However if you only have regular white sugar, you can use that.
- Flour - Here’s another ingredient that’s used in both filling and crust. Regular all purpose flour is what you need here. Just a little in the filling thickens the pastry cream. Measure carefully because too little will make it runny and too much...the opposite.
- Butter - Unsalted butter is best. If you only have salted butter, leave out the little bit of salt mentioned in the recipe card.
- Lemon Zest - Very finely grated zest creates a light, lemony flavor in the crust.
- Baking Powder - This recipe needs just a tiny bit of leavening.
- Salt - Brings out the flavor in sweet recipes as well as savory.
- Pine Nuts - The traditional embellishment for this Torta della Nonna has always been pine nuts. I know they’re expensive but you’ll just need a tablespoon. Seal the remaining nuts and store in the freezer if you don’t use them a lot.
My Torta della Nonna recipe is the classic version but sometimes I like to shake things up a bit with these variations.
- Before spooning in the pastry cream, spread a few tablespoons of Nutella (or another chocolate spread) over the base.
- Stir some mini chocolate chips through the cooled pastry cream then proceed as in the recipe.
- Divide the hot pastry cream in half and stir ¼ cup of chocolate chips into one half until melted.
Please note that the numbered instructions below correlate to the numbered photo collage above. Scroll down to the recipe card for more detailed instructions.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF/180ºC and grease a 10 inch/25cm tart pan with a removable base.
- First place the milk and vanilla extract in a medium saucepan over low heat to warm. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar then the flour. Gradually whisk in the warm milk.
- Strain the milk mixture back into the saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat to thicken. Set aside to cool completely.
- In a food processor, pulse the flour, lemon zest, baking powder, salt and butter.
- Then add egg yolks and process until a dough forms.
- Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.
- Roll out half of the dough and line the prepared pan.
- Fill with cooled Italian pastry cream.
- Roll out remaining dough and use it to cover the filling. Sprinkle with pine nuts and bake as instructed in the recipe card.
If you don’t have a food processor, check out the FAQ’s.
Tips for Success and FAQs
When preparing the pastry cream it’s important to add the warm milk slowly to the egg mixture - whisking well. This tempers the eggs and prevents curdling. Then be sure to allow the filling to bubble for a full minute to cook the starch in the flour and avoid a floury taste.
Pastry has become known as being difficult but this one works every time if you follow all my tips. Dough doesn’t like to be kneaded like bread so be gently and don't overwork the dough. Also I find it easier to keep the dough thoroughly chilled when rolling out otherwise it will stick and be hard to handle.
Finally, soak the pine nuts in water for around 5 minutes to stop them burning in the hot oven. If the top gets too dark, cover with a sheet of foil and finish cooking.
Both the pastry and the filling can be made the day before and stored in the fridge. Be sure to remove the dough from the fridge 15 minutes before you want to roll it out otherwise it may be too hard.
If you don’t have a food processor, rub the butter pieces into the flour, lemon zest, baking powder and salt with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar then egg yolks and combine gently until a dough is formed.
No, the filling is not too wet so blind baking is unnecessary.
Once baked, store Torta della Nonna in the fridge for 4-5 days on a covered plate.
No, I don’t recommend freezing. The pastry cream will separate and lose all of its creaminess.
Traditionally, Torta della Nonna is served for dessert followed by an espresso. It doesn’t need anything but a dusting of powdered sugar.
However a spoonful of raspberry or blueberry compote wouldn’t go astray. Or go over the top with a side of mascarpone cream.
I’d love to know if you tried this recipe. Let me know what you think in the comments below or tag me on instagram.
Made this recipe?
Let me know if you liked it by leaving a ★★★★★ star rating and a review below. Please share a photo of your creation by tagging me on Instagram @marcellina.in.cucina!
Torta Della Nonna Recipe
- 10 inch/25cm tart pan with a removable base
- 2½ cups (590 mls) whole milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 egg yolks
- ¾ cup (150 grams) superfine (castor) sugar
- ¼ cup (30 grams) all purpose (plain) flour
- 2 cups (240 grams) (all purpose (plain) flour
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- pinch salt
- 5 ounces (1¼ sticks / 140 grams) unsalted butter cut into small chunks
- ½ cup (100 grams) superfine (castor) sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon pinenuts
- powdered (icing) sugar for dusting
To make the filling
- Heat the milk and vanilla extract in a medium saucepan until it just comes to the boil. Set aside to cool slightly.
- In a medium bowl, use a wire whisk to beat the egg yolks and sugar well until light and creamy. Stir in the flour.
- With a whisk, gradually add in the warm milk. Whisk well so that no lumps form.
- Strain the milk mixture back into the saucepan. Return to the heat and stir (I like to use a whisk) until it thickens. Boil for about a minute to cook the flour.
- Remove from the heat and pour into a clean bowl covering with plastic wrap. Press the plastic onto the surface of the filling to prevent a skin forming. Set aside to cool completely.
To make the pastry
- In a food processor place the flour, lemon zest, baking powder, salt and butter. Pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Add the sugar and egg yolks then process until the mixture just starts to come together on the sides of the bowl. Remove and wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour.
- Preheat oven to 350ºF/180ºC and grease a 10 inch/25cm tart pan with a removable base with non-stick cooking spray.
- Soak pinenuts in a small bowl of water.
- Divide the dough in two pieces, with one slightly larger.
- Take the larger piece. Press it down to flatten and form a rough circle. Dust the pastry lightly with flour.
- Roll out the larger piece between two pieces of non stick baking paper until large enough to fit the tart pan. If the pastry is sticking, dust with a little more flour.
- Roll the pastry gently around the rolling pin. Lift and unroll into the pan. Pull up the pastry around the sides and encourage it to fall into the corners. Patch tears with excess pastry. Trim the edges level to the top of the pan.
- Spoon the cool pastry cream into the base. Spread and level the filling.
- Roll out the second piece of pastry as you did with the first and fit over the pastry cream, pressing the edges to seal and then trim off excess. Brush the top with water.
- Drain the pine nuts and sprinkle over the torta.
- Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes.
- Allow to cool. Carefully remove torta from the pan and place on a serving plate. Dust with abundant powdered sugar. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
- When preparing the pastry cream filling it’s important to add the warm milk slowly to the egg mixture - whisking well.
- Boil the filling for a full minute to cook out the starch in the flour.
- Handle the dough lightly and don't over work.
- Keep the dough chilled for easier handling.
- Soak the pine nuts in water so they don't burn.
Nutritional Information Per Serving
Nutritional information is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. For accurate results, it is recommended that the nutritional information be calculated based on the ingredients and brands you use.
Hi Marcellina, do you think I could prepare the cake (pastry and custard and everything) in the dish a day in advance and then bake it the next day? Thanks!
Yes, I think you could. I never have but the filling isn't too wet and I don't think the pastry would become soggy so I imagine that it would work fine.
I just made the custard so far, reduced the sugar a tad ,as I didn't have superfine. Delicious.
I'm glad you love it!
I made this tart yesterday. It's absolutely delicious. Grazie, Marcellina, for posting this here. Now, a question: I followed the recipe religiously, but when it was time to roll out the dough, it cracked and separated all the time. I could not keep it together, even less roll it around the pin. So, I had to pick it up with my hands and then piece it together in the pan. What could have caused this? In spite of this, it is delicious and looks gorgeous. I added some anise seeds in the water where the pine nuts were soaking and it gives a nice hint to the finished product that I think works very well with the hint of lemon in the pastry.
Ciao Jero! Thank you for your feedback. I'm so glad you loved this recipe for Torta della Nonna! There is plenty of moisture in the dough with the ratio of flour-egg yolks-butter. If you measured the flour correctly and it wasn't packed into the cups then all I can think is that the dough was too cold and that's why it kept cracking. Maybe your kitchen is very cold at this time of the year as well. BTW always measure flour by first stirring the flour to loosen and then spoon into cups without packing down. I hope this helps.
Grazie, Marcellina. I think I measured the flour correctly, so it must be the butter's temperature, but I kept it in the fridge for just one hour as per the recipe. Anyway, next time I think I'll chill the dough for only 45-50 minutes and see if that solves the problem. Grazie ancora della risposta cosí veloce e auguri per il tuo bello blog!
Ciao Jero, maybe next time if the pastry cracks just let it warm up a little. It may be easier to roll that way. Grazie mille per i tuoi gentili commenti!
Can this be made gluten free?
Leigh, I have no experience in baking gluten free pastry. You could try 1:1 gluten free flour and see how it goes. Alternatively use your favorite gluten free pastry and substitute cornstarch for the flour in the filling.
This Torta della Nonna looks yummy!:) I'm sure I will try it this coming New Year. Thanks and Happy Holidays!:)
David Scott Allen
This looks amazing. Bookmarking for later… I definitely want to make this for Christmas. Thanks!
I hope you love it as much as we do, David!
I’ve been looking for desserts to add to our thanksgiving feast, and this one is perfect!
what am I going to do with seven egg whites??? Ideas>>>
Kathleen, you can freeze them in zip lock bags. They'll keep for months. Use them in egg white frittata, pavlova, raspberry torte or make a delicious Italian meringue buttercream. Hope that helps.
What a lovely, simple cake. Just the kind of thing that warms the heart and soul…