Early autumnal, perhaps, but Fidget is feeling nostalgic about Nonna Dora today, so the Rowes have indulged him by showcasing her out-of-this-world pie.
Granny’s custard pie / Torta della nonna
That said, much as we would like to lay claim to Fidget’s heritage, the truth is there are many versions of this Italian classic. But the basics are: sweet shortcrust pastry for the case and top; crème patissiere custard filling; the top then sprinkled with pine nuts; the whole baked for 40–45min.
For the pastry you will need: 200g flour, 75g icing sugar, a pinch of salt, 100g cold butter diced, the scraped seeds of ½ vanilla pod, 2 egg yolks.
For the crème patissiere: 500ml full-fat milk, 4 egg yolks, 110g golden caster sugar, the grated zest of an untreated lemon, 40g flour, the remaining ½ vanilla pod seeds and pod itself.
For the covering: 80g pine nuts (and icing sugar to sprinkle before serving).
We used a (fairly small) 18cm tin, but if you are going large for a special occasion and using a 25–26cm tin, just double all the ingredients.
Make the pastry first. Sift and mix the flour, salt and icing sugar; with your fingers quickly rub in the butter and the vanilla seeds until you get a crumb texture. Mix in the egg yolk and quickly bring together the pastry. Wrap in cling film and rest it in the fridge for about an hour while you prepare the crème patissiere.
Scrape the remaining vanilla seeds into the milk and add the pod. Heat the milk gently, bringing it close to boiling. At this point remove the heat and let the vanilla and milk infuse. Separately, in a bowl mix the egg yolks with the sugar and lemon zest and whisk until you get a pale fluffy mixture. To this, add (little by little, whisking continuously) the sifted flour. Remove the vanilla pod from the milk (strain if you really want to). Put most of the milk back in the pan and bring close to boiling (keep the heat low, you want a very gentle simmer). Add the leftover milk to the egg yolk mixture to loosen; mix well, then pour into the simmering milk. Refrain from mixing (yes, it’s counterintuitive, but it works) until the milk starts coming out from the sides. Do nothing. Only when the milk starts coming out of the middle like a fountain start whisking steadily – keeping on the heat – for 2–3min and the custard will be ready. Remove from the pan into a heatproof bowl to cool. You can cover with cling film to prevent a skin forming but we prefer to simply mix the custard every 10min or so, until cool.
Meanwhile, take the pastry out of the fridge. Reserving one-third for the top, roll the rest thinly and use it to line your greased and floured tin. Trim at the top of the tin, fill with custard (mound the middle to avoid a dip forming when baked). Roll the remaining pastry to create the top; trim it and seal the edge of the pie by pressing gently with a fork. Sprinkle with pine nuts and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°/gas 4 for about 50min. Keep checking and cover loosely with foil if you see the kernels browning too soon.
When ready, take out of the oven, cool, and sprinkle with icing sugar just before serving. True, it’s quite an indulgent treat – and not to be taken lightly, as it will take a good half-day in preparation and baking – but we can only agree with Fidget: really, when it comes to custard pies, grannies know best.