It was our Italian-ified take on high tea, where tea was replaced by espresso and biscuits were replaced by Torta della Nonna.
I don’t know when it started but, when I lived in Italy, my afternoon ritual with my mom became indulging in a short espresso and a slice of Torta della Nonna — a simple Tuscan dessert of vanilla custard and toasted nut tart. We had it on a such regular basis that we were a few forkfuls shy of an outright problem. With time, we kicked the habit, but we still order it whenever we see it on a menu.
You can imagine I have great fondness for that dessert, I’ve always been a bigger fan of Italian cheesecake. Maybe it’s because when I first started baking, the ricotta cheesecake from my mom’s Italian cookbook was one of the first recipes I mastered. So, for this year’s Mother’s Day I came up with a dessert that would be the result if a ricotta cheesecake and a Torta della Nonna had a baby. Since it’s directly inspired by travels with my mother, I’ve named it Torta Della Mia Mamma, for, well, my mom. When I presented her with it today I was hesitant that she’d be put off by my spin on her favorite classic dessert, but, one bite in, she smiled and declared it the best dessert I’ve ever made. It goes without saying that she’s biased so I’ll leave you to judge for yourself.
Ricotta-Mascarpone Tart with Toasted Almonds Recipe
Makes: 8 to 12 servings
For the crust:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons orange zest (from 1 orange)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
6 to 7 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
1/2 pound Mascarpone cheese (can substitute cream cheese)
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract (or vanilla extract)
Toasted sliced almonds, for garnish
Powdered sugar, for garnish (optional)
For the crust:
Combine flour, sugar, zest, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until evenly combined. Add butter and rub into flour mixture until butter is pea-sized pieces and comes together in clumps when squeezed. Drizzle in half ice water and rake through mixture with fingers until just moistened. Drizzle in remaining water 1 tablespoon at a time and comb through mixture with fingers. It will go from being a shaggy mess to coming together. Dough is moist enough when it is moistened through but is not wet when pressed. (You may not need all the water. Do not overwork the dough or it will become tough.)
While rotating the bowl with one hand, push dough between other palm and side of bowl to gather into a ball. Turn dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, press it into a flat disk, then close in wrap. Place in refrigerator at least 30 minutes before rolling out.
Roll dough on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch diameter circle approximately 1/8-inch thick. Transfer dough to 11-inch tart pan with a removable ring, and use excess dough to press crust into tart shell. Trim dough so it is flush with the tart pan and place in refrigerator while oven heats up, at least 15 minutes. (Can be made 2 days ahead and kept covered in refrigerator until ready to use.)
When ready to bake, heat oven to 350°F. Pierce bottom of crust all over with a fork. Line pie with aluminum foil so it overhangs slightly and fill with uncooked rice or baking weights. Bake until crust is set and edges are slightly puffed up, about 15 minutes. Gather foil and remove along with weights. Continue to bake crust until it is light golden, about 15 minutes more.
For the filling:
Combine cheeses, eggs, yolks, sugar, and almond extract in a large bowl and stir until combined and lumps are gone. Pour filling into the crust and bake at 350°F until edge is puffed and mixture is just set, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove to a wire rack and cool at least 15 minutes and serve warm or cold. (Can be made up to 1 day ahead. Store covered with a paper towel and wrapped in aluminum foil in the refrigerator.) Just before serving, cover top with almonds and, if using, dust lightly with powdered sugar.