sweets have always played a part in my life. as a very young child, i was lucky enough to spend time with my great grandmother and she always had some sweet treat waiting for me. maybe it was a bowl of jello-most likely a bowl of jello and on occasion, it was one of those crazy crown jewel jello cakes. i can remember lots of little italian cookies and pastries, most of which i am sure she didn’t make but remember them i do. the strong flavor of bitter almonds and anise…creamy, cheesy fillings studded with candied lemon peel or chocolate chips, mmmmmmm… as the holidays approach, i am thinking of my grandparents; my irish grandfather who always had a bowl of hard candies and candy ribbons at christmas, my italian grandmother who would have a box of cookies and pastries from the italian bakery in town and her mother, my great grandmother who has inspired me to learn all i can about baking. so, with this in mind, i made something that i am sure my italian relatives are familiar with, torta di nonna or grandmothers tart which has a sweet flaky crust flavored with lemon and a creamy custard filling that is loaded with vanilla. it can be served cold but it tastes best as it cools to room temperature.
torta di nonna
1 (9″) tart serving 8
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest, about 1/2 lemon
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 egg yolk
preheat the oven to 325. place the flour, sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor. pulse to combine. sprinkle the butter pieces over the top of the flour mixture and pulse until it resembles a coarse meal. add the eggs and pulse until it comes together and forms a soft dough. press 2/3 of the dough into a 9″ tart pan with a removable bottom making certain that the dough is evenly distributed. refrigerate the remaining piece of dough for the top crust. line the tart shell with baking paper or coffee filters, fill with weights and place on a sturdy tray. bake until the bottom no longer looks glossy but no coloring has begun, about 30 minutes. while this bakes, make the custard filling.
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
place the cornstarch in a heat proof bowl. whisk in a small amount of milk to make a smooth paste. whisk the eggs into the starch and set aside. place the remaining milk in a sauce pot with a heavy bottom and add the sugar and vanilla bean. heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally to melt the sugar, until it comes to a boil. temper the eggs by whisking in 1/3 of the hot milk. place the milk back on the heat and whisk the hot eggs into the milk. while stirring continuously, bring the custard to a boil and allow it to boil for a full minute. remove the weights from the partially baked tart shell and pour the custard through a mesh strainer into the tart shell. set this aside, turn the oven up to 350 and roll the remaining piece of dough into a 9″ circle. cut a hole in the center and carefully transfer the top to the tart. sprinkle sugar over the top of the tart and bake until a nice golden brown, about 35 minutes. allow it to cool completely before trying to remove it from the bottom disk of the pan.
as always, let the power of pie be your savior. bake one, send me a photo and see it here. firstname.lastname@example.org.