After traveling to Long Island for yet another trip this past week, it feels good to be back home again. Snuggling deep into a mound of pillows with Jeremy and the pups, knowing the contents of each and every kitchen cupboard, and being able to make whatever I want on a whim. The summer heat is still going strong here in Portland, and for a Greek, lemon custards set the bar for summer desserts. There’s just something about the way the acidity of the lemon pairs with the smooth and sweet filling, plus all the richness from the egg tones down the lemon’s bite perfectly. And you can serve it chilled or at room temperature, which gives you a bit of flexibility. But there’s a little something extra in here, and that’s almonds. You see, torta della nonna means ‘grandmother’s tart’ in Italian, and it’s a traditional dessert recipe recipe from Italy that calls for a rich pastry crust filled with a thick custard, usually involving lemons and garnished with almonds. Back in Sweden I learned that soaked cashews could be pureed with a dash of liquid to form a wonderfully thick and pudding-like mixture (it’s like a magically healthy pudding/whipped cream hybrid), so I applied the same concept to the filling and soaked some blanched almonds for a few hours before pureeing them with a dash of milk and honey. I mixed this with the standard custard filling fare (sugar, egg yolks, lemon juice and zest) and ended up creating one of the richest and silkiest custards, ever.
Like most Italian sweets, the portions for this recipe are large, so you can either make two 9-inch tarts with it, or you can make 28 mini-tarts using a muffin pan. Or if you’re indecisive like myself, you can do a little of both. I used my muffin pan to make the little tartlets, there’s really no need to go around trying to buy those little mini-tart pans they sell when a muffin pan does pretty much the exact same job. They come out to about 2-inches across, which is great for little passed apps at parties and family gatherings (or just to make for yourself and have pre-measured little to-go custard servings, if you’re like myself and need your custard fix while out and about as well as at home).
I was inspired to make this tart by Expedia’s world on a plate challenge, right now they’re focusing on Italy and all the insane amounts of delicious foods that lie within it. I’m planning on heading to Tuscany sometime this fall, and my head is spinning with food-related stops for the trip, so flipping through the #expediaworldonaplate hashtag is really helping me solidify my travel plans/must-eat list for the journey. If you have any suggestions of things to do in that area or traditional Italian dishes that you love, I’d love to hear them! So far my list is 1) Wine 2) Charcuterie 3) Pizza and 4) Cannolis, which isn’t that far from my standard weekend activities, so I need to mix it up!
Torta Della Nonna Italian Custard Tart
- 4 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/3 cups frozen butter
- 2 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup plus a few tablespoons ice water
Lemon Almond Custard Filling
- 1 cup blanched slivered almonds soaked for 3 to 8 hours submerged in filtered water
- 1 2/3 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup creme fraiche
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 heaping teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds for garnish
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar for garnish
- For the pastry, mix together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl until combined. Grate the frozen butter over the bowl, stirring it every 30 seconds to help coat the individual shards of butter in the flour mixture. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the egg yolks and 1/3 cup of the water. Stir the well with a fork until a dough starts to form. Add the remaining water around the well and begin to knead the entire mixture together until a cohesive dough forms, adding another tablespoon or two of water if necessary to get the dough to come together. Separate the dough into two separate equally-sized balls, cover each with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- For the 9-inch tart pan, roll out the dough until it is 1/4 inch thick and forms an 11-inch square and transfer to a well-greased and lightly floured -inch tart pan. Press the dough into the pan and trim off any excess. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. If you’d like to make mini-tarts, roll out the dough to the same specification but use a inch circular cookie cutter to cut a circle out of the dough. Place the circle in the well of a well-greased and lightly floured muffin pan, pressing the dough into the corners of the well. Repeat until each well has a crust. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the plastic wrap from the crusts and prick all over with a fork. Pre-bake the 9-inch tart crust for 13 minutes and the mini tart crusts for 7 minutes. Remove and allow to cool slightly while you prepare the custard.
- For the custard, place a large casserole dish 3/4 full of water on the bottom rack of the oven. Strain the almonds and discard the soaking liquid. Puree the soaked almonds with the milk, creme fraiche, sugar, honey, lemon juice, and lemon zest at high speed until completely smooth.
- Empty the mixture into small saucepan and place over medium low heat, stirring every 3 minutes.
- Once the mixture is hot but not boiling, remove it from the heat and ladle some of the milk mixture into a medium bowl with the egg yolks, whisking them together rapidly. Continue until you’ve added about half the milk mixture to the yolks, then empty the yolk mixture back into the saucepan and place it back over medium low heat. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk vigorously until smooth. Continue cooking until the custard has thickened slightly, about 4 minutes, stirring every minute.
- Remove from heat and fill the 9-inch tart pan about 3/4 full of filling, use a ladle to fill each mini tart about 3/4 full of the filling. Place the pans in the oven, and bake the 9-inch tart until the edges are set but the middle is slightly jiggly, about 12 to 15 minutes. Bake the mini tarts for about 8 to 10 minutes. Allow the tarts to cool for 30 minutes before attempting to remove them from their respective pans. Garnish by sprinkling the top with slivered almonds and powdered sugar. Serve immediately.