Torta della Nonna for My Darling Lily

Lemon & Rose Petal Ricotta Tart with Toasted Almond Crust (Torta della Nonna)

I was pondering how to introduce the newest member of our family to you, dear readers, when my fabuloso sister-in-law, Mary-beth, suggested tying in Torta della Nonna (Grandmother’s Tart), which truthfully, I knew nothing about. She fell in love with this simple and rich Italian tart in Italy, during a 5-day cooking course, at the beautiful Capezzana Wine and Culinary Center. Mary-beth says she ate a small slice of this tart every day during that stay and wishes she could continue that ritual indefinitely. This is her kind of tart. Let it be known that Mary-beth, former cooking instructor and continuing culinary maven is no slouch in the kitchen. If she says this cake is to die for, I believe it. And I knew I must try it.

However, still unable to utter the “G” word without grimacing, I have been more preoccupied with what my darling granddaughter is going to call me than with announcing to the world that she has, at long last, ARRIVED.  Even if that announcement involves a wonderful tart.

Nearly all of my friends who are old enough and lucky enough to have grandchildren have adopted some stylish moniker, such as Lola, Nana, Mima, Sasa, Bibi, Mimi, or Lela. I mean, the tag, Grandma, just isn’t in fashion these days. Plus it sounds so OLD.

Lemon & Rose Petal Ricotta Tart with Toasted Almond Crust (Torta della Nonna)

My beloved grandmothers’ daily routines centered on house work, laundry, embroidery, crochet, quilting, canning, and baking. They both wore study shoes, thick support hose, and cotton “house” dresses. That’s what “Grandma” used to mean.  (

Well, OK, in her 80’s, Gramma Mary wore a purple polyester pantsuit with matching floppy hat. And a wig. To my wedding. Her boyfriend, Phillip, also showed up in a wig. One of hers I suspect.

Both of my grandmothers were inestimably lovely and loving, and my life would not be nearly so blessed if they had not been a big part of it.

Even so, for the record, I am YOUNG. YOUNG, I tell you. I walk 4 miles several times a week, I think about getting into yoga, I chant along to Krishna Das, Snatum Kaur and Deva Premal, I work a corporate job that is more like two jobs (60+ hours most weeks), run a POPULAR food blog and corresponding social media account, write cookbooks, create new dishes, paint, read voraciously, keep a spiritual journal, write poetry, watch MauiJim weed/prune/mow an acre of gardens and grass, and occasionally wash a few dishes. I wear black running shoes, shorts, and 1 of 24 baggy Jams World Hawaiian Retro Shirts almost everywhere. Like this one. Did I mention that I am launching an artisan cookie company? Well maybe someday.

Lemon & Rose Petal Ricotta Tart with Toasted Almond Crust (Torta della Nonna)

This is not OLD. This is not the “G” word. But my darling Miss Lillian (Lily) needs a name for me, and I haven’t a clue what it should be. I’m trying out Shoshanah (Hebrew for Susan), Susala (the German name Gramma Mary called me), Soozi (what my niece and nephew call me), Sosamma (Malaysian for Susan), Sukie (a dog that terrorized MauiJim when he was a boy), Xuxa (Latin origin of Susan), Zuzia (Polish for Susan), and Susa (I dreamed this one up).

I ran these by my daughter and new mother, Rachel. In her inimical fashion, she says I can call myself anything I like, but that Lily is going to call me Gramma, just as Rachel calls her own grandmothers. It’s hopeless. I better start looking for those thick support hose. I wonder how they’ll look with my Hawaiian shirts?

(Update: Even though Rachel tried to foist Gramma on me, Lily chose Soozi. That’s my girl! )

So here she is folks. Miss Lillian Mary Ellen (Lily)–8 pounds 4 ounces when this picture was taken three weeks ago. She is named after 1 great grandmother (Ellen) and 2 great-great grandmothers (Lillian and Mary). And of course we all know that Susan means lily, so she’s named after me as well. (Don’t tell Rachel.) Her proud parents, Rachel and Chris, couldn’t be happier. And neither could we.

Miss Lillian Mary Ellen

Now, on to Grandmother’s Tart (often called Grandmother’s Cake, for reasons unfathomable to me). I do hope Lily will like it–when she’s old enough to actually take a bite. I added the pink rose petals just for her.

In researching this classic Italian dessert, I ran into a few different takes on the filling. The simplest version combines ricotta with eggs, sugar and a smidgeon of flour, which when baked produces an almost cheesecake-like texture. Another was based on a custard of egg yolks, sugar, milk and semolina, with ricotta added after the custard was chilled. And yet another was based on a custard of egg yolks, sugar, milk and flour with ricotta added after the custard was chilled and crushed pine nuts and almonds added to the mix.

Lemon & Rose Petal Ricotta Tart with Toasted Almond Crust (Torta della Nonna)

In all the photos I saw of this torta on the web, most looked to be a pastry cream filling encased in rich pastry. Most termed themselves “cake” and had a bottom and top layer of pastry, but a few termed themselves “pie” and had only a bottom layer of pastry. Almost all the tortas were flavored with either lemon or orange and some included a sprinkling of pine nuts or almonds.

So my main concern after getting a feel for what this dessert is supposed to be like was whether to go the simple route and prepare it as a typical cheesecake/baked custard, or be adventurous and see how the texture might differ if a pastry cream is prepared first on the stove, the ricotta added to it, and the resulting mixture then baked. In the end, I tried it both ways.

Lemon & Rose Petal Ricotta Tart with Toasted Almond Crust (Torta della Nonna)

My second concern was that I expected the tart to be very mildly flavored. I usually favor Big Taste. Plus, I have never been a fan of ricotta, both because the texture is gritty in all but the most carefully crafted and thus very expensive renditions, and also because fresh ricotta has all the flavor of, well, milk. If you are from Italy, New York, or Boston’s North End, don’t hate me. I just don’t get ricotta.

I did discover something new to me about ricotta, however. I bought four different brands and tasted them for “grit.” They were all granular to different degrees, but with three of the ricottas, I could smush the grains to nothing with my tongue. With the fourth ricotta, the grains were as solid as sand. I then tried processing one of the first three ricottas, and sure enough, it became completely smooth. Thank goodness for that because I would not have liked a grainy tart.

Lemon & Rose Petal Ricotta Tart with Toasted Almond Crust (Torta della Nonna)

Lemon & Rose Petal Ricotta Tart with Toasted Almond Crust (Torta della Nonna)

This lovely tart is creamy and delicately flavored with lemon and just a hint of rose petal. The toasted almond crust adds a necessary flavor and texture dimension, as do the toasted almonds on top.

There are two versions of this tart presented here, and although the ingredients are nearly identical, the resulting tarts are quite different. I offer them both, because they are each quite lovely in their own way. The pastry cream-based tart is shallow and dense with both a bottom and top pastry crust. The batter-based tart is deep and light with only a bottom pastry crust. It more closely resembles a cross between cheesecake and baked custard.

If I have to say which version I like best, I would probably pick the latter. I’m a sucker for light and creamy. But truthfully, before I had the second version to compare to the first, I was quite happy eating the first. I’ll let you decide.

Extra Rich & Sweet, Toasted Almond Short-Crust Pastry (recipe to follow)

4 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour

1½ or 2 cups whole milk (see method)

¼ cup fresh lemon juice
finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon lemon oil
1-2 drops rose petal oil (don’t use more, very strong)

1½ cups (12 ounces) fresh ricotta (or try quark, cream cheese, or drained Greek yogurt)

1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water

powdered sugar in a shaker
2 tablespoons sliced almonds, lightly toasted, optional (but the crunch is so nice)

small handful fresh rose petals (unsprayed, edible), optional

Blackberry Lemon Verbena Syrup, optional (recipe to follow)
handful fresh blackberries, optional 


  • If you plan to use the Pastry Cream Method, fit pastry into a 9½-inch diameter, 1-inch deep (shallow), removable bottom tart pan.
  • If you plan to use the Batter Method, fit pastry into a 10-inch diameter, 1½-inch deep, removable bottom tart pan.

Pastry Cream Method

  1. Prepare the pastry and line a 9½-inch diameter, 1-inch deep (shallow), removable bottom tart pan with it. Roll out a second circle of pastry for the top and reserve in the frig along with the pastry-lined tart pan.
  2. To make the pastry cream, in a 3-quart saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and flour until smooth. Mixture will be quite thick.
  3. Gradually pour in 2 cups milk, whisking all the while. By the time all milk is added, the mixture should be smooth with no lumps.
  4. Set the pan over medium-high heat, and bring the custard just to a simmer, stirring continuously. Continue at a bare simmer for 2 minutes, and then remove from the heat.
  5. Whisk in the lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla, lemon oil, and rose petal oil.
  6. If you notice any lumps, push the hot custard through a fine strainer into a mixing bowl.
  7. Cover the top of the custard directly with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly.
  8. Using a processor fitted with the steel blade, process the ricotta until very smooth and creamy.
  9. Add the pastry cream and pulse to combine.
  10. Spoon the ricotta pastry cream into the pastry-lined tart pan and smooth the top.
  11. Position the top pastry over the tart pan and seal the edges of the two layers of pastry.
  12. Brush the top pastry with the egg yolk/water glaze.
  13. Bake in the middle of the oven at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes. The top crust will be somewhat puffed and nicely browned.
  14. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When room temperature, cover and chill until ready to serve.
  15.  To serve, dust liberally with powdered sugar and scatter toasted almonds on top. If desired, scatter edible rose petals on top as well and serve with Blackberry Lemon Verbena Sauce and fresh blackberries. Use a serrated cake knife to cut the tart.

Makes about 2½ cups ricotta pastry cream; fills one pastry-lined, 9½-inch diameter, 1-inch deep (shallow), removable bottom tart pan; serves 6-8.

Batter Method

  1. Prepare the pastry and line a 10-inch diameter, 1½-inch deep, removable bottom tart pan. Put into the frig while preparing the batter.
  2. Using a processor fitted with the steel blade, process the ricotta and sugar until very smooth and creamy.
  3. Add the egg yolks and flour, and process to incorporate.
  4. Add the lemon juice, zest, vanilla, lemon oil, and rose petal oil. Pulse to combine.
  5. Remove the batter to a large mixing bowl and whisk in 1½ cups milk until the mixture is well combined and smooth.
  6. Set pastry-lined tart pan on an edged baking sheet. Pour batter into the pastry-lined tart pan, being careful not to overfill. Batter should come no higher than ¼-inch from top edge.
  7. Bake in the middle of the oven at 375 degrees for about 40-45 minutes. The custard will be puffing at the edges but still quite loose in the center. This is fine. It will continue to cook after removal from the oven.
  8. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When room temperature, cover and chill until ready to serve.
  9.  To serve, dust liberally with powdered sugar and scatter toasted almonds on top. If desired, scatter edible rose petals on top as well and serve with Blackberry Lemon Verbena Sauce and fresh blackberries. Use a serrated cake knife to cut the tart.

Makes about 4¼ cups ricotta custard batter; fills one pastry-lined, 10-inch diameter, 1½-inch deep, removable bottom tart pan; serves 8.


A Blithe Palate: Adventures of an Italian Food Lover: Torta della Nonna
Café Chocolada: Torta della Nonna – a Slice of Tuscan Sun
Caffe Tua: Torta della Nonna and a Little Story of my Family
Capezzana: Grandma Lisa’s Cake
Cook Almost Anything: Torta della Nonna (Grandmothers’ Pie)
Italian Food Forever: Torta della NonnaTasteSpotting: Torta della Nonna
Washington Post: Torta Della Nonna (Grandmother’s Torte)
We Cook Italian: Torta della Nonna

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  1. shasha says

    I’m planning on making version 2 this weekend for a birthday. I had a question about the party crust. Is it supposed to be baked before adding the custard or batter? The recipe you pointed to notes the crust should be cooked. Thanks!

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Hi Shasha. For this tart, it is not necessary to prebake the pastry shell. If you want to though, bake it only partially before filling with batter. Either way will work. You’re going to love this tart. :-)

  2. gypsybaker says

    I made this for company and they raved about it…wish I had figured out from reading the narrative (which I always enjoy) that it would even improve over a few days in the fridge. I didn’t have rose petal oil but did have rose water (which I used in your fabulous white cheesecake recipe!), so I used 4-5 drops of it and the flavor was not over-powering. Topped it with crushed creme brule almonds (which I buy each Christmas from Orvis as a special treat) & powdered sugar. I love this recipe. Thank you from one Nana to another.

  3. jessica says

    this looks so delicious! but somehow i can’t find the toasted almond shortcrust recipe? am i missing something? i was hoping to make this for a party tomorrow…

  4. says

    Wonderful news about the new baby. You and I have many things in common. As far as yoga. Yes, you sounds like it would be very relaxing for your busy life.
    I went throught the same thing when my grandchildren were born. One set, has four sets of grandparents and well, I didnt want to be called grandma. I wanted to be a litte different than all the other names. I was born in Germany, and all the grandmothers are called “Oma”. My grandchildren took to it very fast and actually could say it very early in their lives.
    It was never confusing for them, to know which grandmother they were speaking about. So good luck. What a wonderful journey you are about to begin. May you heart be filled with endless blessings.
    PS. Cant wait to hear about the “Cookie Artisty” Company. Also classes? Would love to cook with fellow chefs.

  5. Jessica says

    Congratulations on the beautiful addition to your family. She is really beautiful, and no matter what she chooses to call you, your heart will skip a beat when she says it for the first time.

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Jessica, thanks so much! She is a joy and a delight! Now if I can just stay away from those baby clothes departments. :-)

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Let me know what you think after you make it. I have never had it anywhere else, so not sure what to compare it to. I will say that I ate a slice of the lighter version every day for nearly a week and just loved it. So creamy and satisfying. I’m going to have to make it again real soon. Next time though, to cut back on calories, I will use just a light sprinkling of cookie crumbs on the bottom of the pan, the same way I do for cheesecakes. Then I can eat 2 slices a day. :-)

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Urban Baker, let me know if it is similar to the one you love in the bakery. I had never even seen this tart/cake anywhere previously. Now I’m hooked though. :-)

  6. Susan says

    Lily is adorable. Congratulations.

    I intend to have myself called Grammy if I ever get to have the honor. I like to think of it as an the Grammy’s! Dang, I’ve earned it..if it ever happens!

    The torte looks delicious. I finally tried my hand at homemade ricotta and I like it so much better than the store bought stuff. You have more control over the process and can please your own palate’s flavor and texture preference. You’re right though, ricotta does taste like milk with texture! You do have to flavor up whatever recipe you use.

  7. Mary-beth says

    This “grandmother’s cake” is eaten at most family celebrations – birthdays, anniversaries, and such. I can’t imagine a better reason to serve it than to welcome new baby.
    To Miss Lily! And thanks for your kind words – I think Torta della Nonna is heavenly – just like Baby Lillian! :-)

  8. cookingmama says

    Beautiful tart..even more beautiful granddaughter. Congratulations! What if she called you Nonna? You know how kids sometimes pronounce things funny? Your daughter will never know. I went through this with my mother-in-law 18 years ago. (Yikes, now I feel old!) We settled on grandma C, after all. Lily will likely tell you what she’s going to call you, the way Hannah told grandma C.

  9. Darci says

    Wonderful blog, congratulations on your daughter, Lily, and yes, Mary-beth is indeed fabuloso, and I am going to try your Torta Nonna recipe. It looks lovely!

  10. carmela liPuma newstead says

    You have a beautiful granddaughter and a lovely dessert. Everywhere in Italy they have “torta de nonna” which means any custard/ dough dessert nonna wants to fix. Yours are elegant and i will try it right away. Ricotta is one of those magnificent foodstuffs that can be used so many different ways. Freshly homemade with fig jam on italian toast is to die for. Sure enjoyed your blog. Please keep me on your list and enjoy Lily, by any name woould be as sweet.


  11. says

    Oh, congrats! She is gorgeous, and so are the tarts. I share your concerns with ricotta (though I love homemade) so I appreciate your research. And Gramma is just another name for love.

  12. Judy B. says

    Congratulations on the new arrival, Lily – what a beautiful gift she is. I like the name “Susa”. My own Momma was called “Nubbin” by her grandchildren…name has a little story behind it…actually means “little or something small”. Thanks for the tsrt recipe – will try the second version (first).


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