Italian Desserts

Torta della Nonna: Italian Custard Tart

May 26, 2020 (Last Updated: July 27, 2020) by Emily

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Torta della Nonna is the most delicious Italian custard tart made with sweet shortcrust pastry, Italian pastry cream, and topped with pine nuts. An elegant and beautiful dessert for any occasion.

An overhead shot of Torta della Nonna on a wooden surface

Torta della Nonna or Grandmother’s cake is such a classic Italian dessert!

Perfectly crisp sweet shortcrust pastry with fresh lemon zest and a thick vanilla custard filling topped with crunchy, creamy pine nuts and dusted with confectioner’s sugar. It’s incredibly delicious!

Traditionally this dessert is made with a pastry top making it more like a sweet pie rather than a tart but you’ll commonly see modern versions without the pastry top like our recipe here.

Don’t worry though, if you want to top the tart with more pastry there’s enough in this recipe to do so!

What you need to make it

The main ingredient you need to make Torta della Nonna is Italian Pastry Cream (Crema Pasticcera).

If you’re not familiar with pastry cream, it’s a thick vanilla custard sometimes flavored with citrus zest or liqueur and can be used to fill all kinds of desserts like our Italian filled doughnuts (so delicious).

An overhead shot showing the ingredients to make the Torta della Nonna filling

The rest of the ingredients are super simple; flour, eggs, butter, vanilla and milk. See the photo below that shows all the ingredients you need (you can also find the full recipe in the recipe card).

An overhead shot of ingredients you need to make shortcrust pastry with lemon zest

How to make Torta della Nonna – step by step

How to make the filling (Crema Pasticcera)

Warm the milk in a saucepan then set aside.

In a bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar just until combined. Add the cornstarch (cornflour UK) and mix it into the eggs until combined (photos 1 – 4).

Step by step photos showing mix eggs, cornstarch, sugar and milk together

Slowly pour the warm milk into the bowl with the eggs constantly whisking until everything is mixed together (make sure the milk is just warm and not hot so the eggs don’t scramble) (photos 5 & 6).

Once combined pour the mixture back into the saucepan you warmed the milk in.

Heat it on a low heat stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 10 minutes until very thick (photos 7 – 9).

Step by step photos showing how to make pastry cream from scratch
Two photos showing the consistency of pastry cream and how to cover it

Once thickened pour the pastry cream into a clean bowl and place plastic wrap directly on top of the cream so a skin doesn’t form (photo 10).

Once cooled completely place the bowl in the fridge until ready to use.

How to make the pastry (Pasta Frolla)

Sift the flour into a large bowl then add the rest of the dry ingredients including the lemon zest, stir to combine (photos 1 & 2).

Add the egg and butter and cut it into the flour mixture with a spatula or pastry scraper to form rough crumbs (photos 3 & 4).

Step by step photos showing the first steps of making shortcrust pastry

Start to bring the mixture together with your hands to form a dough. Knead the pastry until all the flour is fully absorbed and it becomes a smooth ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour (photos 5-8).

Step by step photos showing how to bring shortcrust pastry together

After the dough has chilled remove from the fridge and dust a clean work surface with flour. Roll out using a rolling pin until ¼ inch (½ cm) thick (photo 9).

Grease a tart or pie pan with butter then lay the pastry over the pan tucking in the sides until it fits evenly. Roll the rolling pin over the tart case to cut the edges (you can also trim the edge with a knife) (photos 10-13).

Step by step photos showing how to roll out and make a pie crust
Two photos showing how to trim and pick a pie crust

Prick the base with a fork then place back in the fridge for 30 minutes (photo 14).

How to assemble and bake

Soak the pine nuts in water for 5 mins (photo 1).

Remove the pastry case from the fridge and fill with the cooled pastry cream, spread out evenly (photo 2).

Step by step photos showing how to assemble Torta della Nonna

Scatter over the pine nuts then bake in the oven for 50 minutes or until slightly golden on top (photo 3 & 4).

Remove from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes then remove the tart from the case and place on a cooling rack to cool completely. Serve once cooled or place in the fridge until ready to serve.

A side shot of an Italian custard tart with a slice cut out

Top tips and recipe FAQs

  • Prep in advance – You can prepare the pastry cream and shortcrust pastry in advance they’ll last well in the fridge stored separately for around 4-5 days.
  • Full fat milk – Use full-fat milk to make the pastry cream so it’s super creamy and thick. Lower fat milk won’t thicken as well.
  • Use cold butter – Make sure to use cold butter to make a successful shortcrust pastry. Also see our thorough guide on how to make Italian shortcrust pastry.
  • Pine nuts – Make sure to soak the pine nuts for 5 minutes to stop them browning too quickly in the oven.
  • Let it cool – Make sure to let the tart cool completely so the custard sets.
Do I need to blind bake the pie crust first?

No, it’s not necessary for this recipe you only need to blind bake pie crusts if using a filling with excess moisture such as fresh fruit.

How long does Torta della Nonna last?

Torta della Nonna will last for around 4-5 days in the fridge although the pastry will start to soften after a day or two.

Can I freeze it?

No, I don’t recommend freezing this tart because pastry cream is known to split and separate after freezing.

A close up of a slice of torta della nonna with a bite out

More Italian desserts you might like

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5 from 1 vote

Torta della Nonna

Torta della Nonna is the most delicious Italian custard tart made with sweet shortcrust pastry, Italian pastry cream (crema pasticcera), and topped with pine nuts. An elegant and beautiful dessert for any occasion.
Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Servings 12 servings
Calories 291kcal
Author Emily Kemp

Ingredients

Shortcrust pastry (Pasta Frolla)

  • 2 cups flour 00 flour or all-purpose (250g)
  • ½ cup caster sugar golden or white (80g)
  • 8.5 tbsp cold butter cubed (120g)
  • 1 large egg
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1 pinch of salt

Pastry cream (Crema Pasticcera)

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2.5 cups milk ½ litre
  • ¼ cup cornstarch (30g)
  • cup sugar (70g)
  • ½ tsp vanilla paste or 1 vanilla bean *see notes below

Topping

  • ¼ cup pine nuts (30g)
  • confectioners sugar for dusting (icing sugar UK)

Instructions

To make the pastry cream filling

  • Warm the milk in a saucepan with the vanilla then set aside.
  • In a bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar just until combined. Add the cornstarch (cornflour UK) and mix it into the eggs until combined
  • Slowly pour the warm milk into the bowl with the eggs constantly whisking until everything is mixed together (make sure the milk is just warm and not hot so the eggs don’t scramble).
  • Once combined pour the mixture back into the saucepan you warmed the milk in.
  • Heat it on a low heat stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 10 minutes until very thick.
  • Once thickened pour the pastry cream into a clean bowl and place plastic wrap directly on top of the cream so a skin doesn’t form.
  • Once cooled completely place the bowl in the fridge until ready to use.

To make the pastry

  • Sift the flour into a large bowl then add the rest of the dry ingredients including the lemon zest, stir to combine.
  • Add the egg and butter and cut it into the flour mixture with a spatula or pastry scraper to form rough crumbs.
  • Start to bring the mixture together with your hands to form a dough. Knead the pastry until all the flour is fully absorbed and it becomes a smooth ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • After the dough has chilled remove from the fridge and dust a clean work surface with flour. Roll out using a rolling pin until ¼ inch (½ cm) thick.
  • Grease a tart or pie pan with butter then lay the pastry over the pan tucking in the sides until it fits evenly. Roll the rolling pin over the tart case to cut the edges (you can also trim the edge with a knife).
  • Prick the base with a fork then place back in the fridge for 30 minutes.

To assemble

  • Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C.
  • Soak the pine nuts in water for 5 mins.
  • Remove the pastry case from the fridge and fill with the cooled pastry cream, spread out evenly.
  • Scatter over the pine nuts then bake in the oven for 50 minutes or until slightly golden on top.
  • Remove from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes then remove the tart from the case and place on a cooling rack to cool completely. Serve once cooled or place in the fridge until ready to serve.

Notes

  • Vanilla – Instead of vanilla paste, you can use 1 whole vanilla pod with the inside scraped out and added to the milk (remove the pod when adding the milk to the egg) or 1 tsp of vanilla extract.
  • Prep in advance – You can prepare the pastry cream and shortcrust pastry in advance they’ll last well in the fridge stored separately for around 4-5 days.
  • Full fat milk – Use full-fat milk to make the pastry cream so it’s super creamy and thick. Lower fat milk won’t thicken as well.
  • Use cold butter – Make sure to use cold butter to make a successful shortcrust pastry. Also see our thorough guide on Italian shortcrust pastry.
  • Pine nuts – Make sure to soak the pine nuts for 5 minutes to stop them browning too quickly in the oven.
  • Let it cool – Make sure to let the tart cool completely so the custard sets.

Nutrition

Calories: 291kcal | Carbohydrates: 35g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 121mg | Sodium: 208mg | Potassium: 119mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 17g | Vitamin A: 458IU | Calcium: 80mg | Iron: 1mg
Helpful Info for All Recipes
  • I always use extra virgin olive oil in all of my recipes unless stated otherwise
  • When I use canned or jarred tomatoes of any kind I always use this brand for the best results and flavour
  • All vegetables are medium sized unless stated otherwise
  • All recipes are tested and developed using a fan (convection) oven
  • Find out more about how nutrition is calculated here
  • Check out our must have Italian Pantry Staples here
  • You can also find all our Essential Kitchen Tools for Italian Cooking here
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3 Comments

  • Reply
    Elizabeth Iachelli
    October 8, 2020 at 11:43 pm

    What is vanilla pasta and when are you supposed to use it in the recipe?

    • Reply
      Inside the rustic kitchen
      October 12, 2020 at 9:07 am

      Sorry it’s meant to say vanilla paste (will correct that now). You can use vanilla extract or a whole vanilla bean instead. You add it to the milk as your warming it up.

  • Reply
    Angela
    May 31, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    Wow! This looks exactly like the torta I dreamily gaze at in the windows of a pasticceria in Italy! I love the idea of lemon zest in the pastry! This should be my challenge of the week, with the added challenge of not eating the whole thing! Yum!5 stars

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