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Torta Della Nonna

Torta della Nonna is a simple, rustic Italian dessert that is loved throughout Italy! 

This classic tart consists of a lemony, tender shortcrust filled with luscious Italian pastry cream and is an absolutely ideal way to end any meal!!

Torta della Nonna with pastry cream filling with a slice cut and pulled out.
A rustic Italian dessert that everyone will love!

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 at the bottom of the page.

Ingredients

Ingredients as listed in the recipe card viewed from above.
  • 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.

Variations

My Torta della Nonna recipe is the classic version but sometimes I like to shake things up a bit with these variations.

  1. Before spooning in the pastry cream, spread a few tablespoons of Nutella (or another chocolate spread) over the base.
  2. Stir some mini chocolate chips through the cooled pastry cream then proceed as in the recipe.
  3. Divide the hot pastry cream in half and stir ¼ cup of chocolate chips into one half until melted.

Instructions

Eight step process images showing how to make this pie.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Strain the milk mixture back into the saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat to thicken. Set aside to cool completely.
  3. In a food processor, pulse the flour, lemon zest, baking powder, salt and butter. 
  4. Then add egg yolks and process until a dough forms.
  5. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.
  6. Roll out half of the dough and line the prepared pan.
  7. Fill with cooled Italian pastry cream.
  8. 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

Pie with pastry cream filling dusted with powdered sugar with a slice cut and turned so that the filling is revealed viewed from above.

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.

Can I make Torta della Nonna in advance?

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.

I don’t have a food processor. How can I make the pastry?

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.

Do I need to blind bake the crust?

No, the filling is not too wet so blind baking is unnecessary.

How long will it last?

Once baked, store Torta della Nonna in the fridge for 4-5 days on a covered plate.

Can this torta be frozen?

No, I don’t recommend freezing. The pastry cream will separate and lose all of its creaminess.

Serving Suggestions

Pie with pastry cream filling with a slice cut and pulled out.

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?
Please let me know if you liked it by leaving a ★★★★★ star rating and a review below. And remember to subscribe to my newsletter – it’s free!

pie with pastry cream filling with a slice cut and pulled out.

Torta Della Nonna Recipe

Torta della Nonna translates to "Grandmother's cake" and is a favorite Sunday lunch dessert. The tender, buttery crust is filled with vanilla pastry and topped with pinenuts then baked until golden brown and irristible.
4.97 from 82 votes
Print Pin Review
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Chilling Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Servings:12 portions
Author: Marcellina

Equipment

  • 10 inch/25cm tart pan with a removable base

Ingredients

Custard

  • 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

Pastry

  • cups (300 grams) all purpose flour plus extra for rolling
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 6 ounces (1½ sticks / 170 grams) cold unsalted butter cut into small chunks
  • cup (130 grams) superfine (castor) sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon pinenuts

To finish

  • powdered (icing) sugar for dusting

Instructions

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, egg and egg yolk then process until the mixture just starts to come together on the sides of the bowl.
  • Remove to a work surface and knead very lightly until the dough comes together. If the dough is very sticky, add a little more all purpose flour.
  • Once the dough has come together, flatten the dough into a thick round 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 being larger. Rewrap the smaller piece and return to the fridge. This dough is soft when warm so keep it chilled.
  • Take the larger piece. Press it down to flatten and form a rough circle. Dust the pastry lightly with flour.
  • If the dough is very cold and hard, give it a few thumps with the rolling pin. This will make it more pliable.
  • Roll out the larger piece between two pieces of non stick baking paper until large enough to fit the tart pan. Keep checking to see if the pastry is sticking. If so, dust with 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. Reserve the leftover dough.
  • Spoon the cool pastry cream into the base. Spread and level the filling.
  • Press the leftover dough onto the second piece, then roll out as you did with the first piece of dough and fit over the pastry cream, pressing the edges to seal and then trim off excess.
  • Make a slit in the middle of the top crust then 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.

Notes

Tips for success
  • 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.
  • If the dough is very sticky, dust well with flour when rolling.
  • Keep the dough chilled for easier handling.
  • Soak the pine nuts in water so they don’t burn.
FAQ’s questions are answered above. Be sure to check that out if you have any doubts. Or contact me.
Crust
This crust recipe as been increased slightly compared to the original recipe to ensure that there is plenty of crust. The result is identical to the original but with a little more dough to play with.
Tried this recipe? Give it a star rating and leave a comment below!

Nutritional Estimate Per Serving

Calories: 323kcal | Carbohydrates: 42g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 144mg | Sodium: 29mg | Potassium: 130mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 24g | Vitamin A: 529IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 85mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutritional Disclaimer

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.

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4.97 from 82 votes (76 ratings without comment)

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35 Comments

  1. Could I make this as individual servings for a large party rather than a 10” tart? Perhaps in a muffin tin?

    1. The ratio between filling to crust will be different but it’s still possible. I would suggest little tart pans rather than muffin pans just because it might be easier but that’s up to you. The crust recipe for Torta della Nonna is quite buttery and tender which could make it difficult when preparing individual tarts. I suggest you follow the crust recipe in this Boccanotti recipe but use the pastry cream filling as in this Torta della Nonna recipe. Hope that helps.

  2. I have made this twice now and I can’t seem to get the custard into a cream texture for me it’s always really liquidy. It still turns out really nice but the texture of the custard isn’t right can anyone help? I don’t really know what I’ve done wrong

    1. Nicole, I’d really like to troubleshoot this with you because it’s the most delicious recipe! Are you measuring correctly? Are you using cups or weights? There is a 1/4 cup of flour in the custard which is more than enough to thicken 2 1/2 cups of milk. Are you bring the custard to a full boil? Also, are you serving the torta really warm from the oven? The warm filling will be more liquid than when allowed to cool. Slightly warm is nice, though.

      1. I’m using grams and I have used 30g of flour and 590ml whole milk. I’m going to retry the torta today and try boil it to a full boil

        1. Your measurements sound right maybe it’s just the boiling part. Bring it to a full boil and simmer for a minute. It should get quick thick and then at around the minute mark, loosen a little. Don’t boil it for longer than that. Let me know how you go.

  3. Made this for my husband who misses his home country for the third time. I’m happy I could give him a taste close to home with this recipe, thank you so much. This is my go-to for when I’m not feeling committed enough to make his other favorite, mimosa cake (yikes pan di spagna!) I digress, thank you Marcellina.

  4. 2 stars
    The crust was super sticky and it wasn’t enough for a 25 cm tart pan. I can’t find info on whether to bake with oven circulation or not. It was my first cake in a very long time which turned out bad.

    1. I suspect that you have used a tart pan with high sides. The sides should be no more than 3 cm (1.1811 inches). If this size is used there is enough dough however I have now increased the dough recipe slightly to compensate for bakers using a slightly larger tart pan or struggling with rolling out the dough to the correct size. As advised in the tips for success, it is important to keep the dough chilled and use plenty of flour so that it doesn’t stick. The texture of the crust is what ensure a delicious tender result! It actually doesn’t make a lot of difference to this recipe whether you use oven circulation or not. Karolina, may I suggest a more simple recipe if you haven’t baked in a long time. What about my lemon yogurt cake, vanilla muffins or banana nutella bread. All of these are easy to bake.

    2. I have been making this torte for a while and it does not last long. I now add a cinnamon stick, an orange rind, a pinch on salt and 30 mls of lime juice to the custard, I reduce the amount of milk accordingly. I add the lime juice when the custard has thickened. Every one who tries it loves it.

  5. The amounts are certainly wrong, followed the instructions and I have so much custard left and very little pastry – the ratio is wrong

    1. Did you roll out the pastry thin enough? Did you use the correct size pan? The ratio aren’t wrong if the recipe is actually followed correctly as you should be able to see it in the process photos. This torta has a thin, buttery crust and a generous amount of filling. If you’d like to contact me, I’d be happy to trouble shoot.

  6. 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!

    1. 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.

  7. 5 stars
    I just made the custard so far, reduced the sugar a tad ,as I didn’t have superfine. Delicious.

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 5 stars
        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!

        1. 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!

    1. 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.

  9. 5 stars
    This Torta della Nonna looks yummy!:) I’m sure I will try it this coming New Year. Thanks and Happy Holidays!:)

  10. This looks amazing. Bookmarking for later… I definitely want to make this for Christmas. Thanks!

  11. 5 stars
    I’ve been looking for desserts to add to our thanksgiving feast, and this one is perfect!