Gluten Free Torta Della Nonna – Grandmother’s Cake

I saw this magnificent looking cake on one of my favourite blogs – La petite casserole. It had two ingredients I like and use very often: shortcrust pastry and vanilla pastry cream. I just had to make this cake gluten free.


I regret to say that up to the moment I saw this cake, I never heard of this traditional, classic cake, made in different regions of Italy.  I use shortcrust and other gluten free pastries and vanilla pastry cream to make different desserts and cakes. The first ever cake recipe I created myself when I was 13 (with regular wheat flour) was a layered cake, similar to Napoleon I make now, with 7-8 layers of very thin shortcrust pastry, pastry cream and just one layer of blackcurrant jam to balance the sweetness of other ingredients. It was also the first cake recipe, I adapted gluten free many years ago, after creating my own recipe for gluten free sweet shortcrust pastry. It was our family favourite for many years, a special cake for birthdays and New Year celebrations.

Later, several more recipes with these two ingredients followed. The closest to Torta della nonna were Genovesi pastries, individual custard pies made with a different version of gluten free sweet pastry.


I only had to get pine nuts and slightly modify my recipes for shortcrust pastry (to make it less sweet), and pastry cream (to make it a touch thicker) to be ready to make my gluten free version of Torta della nonna – Grandmother’s cake.


Shortcrust pastry

  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 80g caster sugar
  • 10g vanilla sugar
  • 200 g rice flour (I used McKenzie’s fine rice flour)
  • 90 g Gluten Free all purpose plain flour (I used OrgraN plain all purpose flour)
  • 1 large or extra large egg
  • pinch of salt
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • tapioca (or Orgran plain) flour to roll the pastry

Pastry cream

  • contents of 1 vanilla pod
  • 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg (can be replaced by 2 whole eggs)
  • 35 g corn flour
  • 500ml full cream milk
  • 100 g sugar
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon


  • 30-50g of pine nuts (depends on the diameter of the cake and the density of nuts you like on your cake)


I made a process of pastry and cream preparation simple and easy, without unnecessary stages to complicate it.

Pastry cream

  • lightly beat egg yolks and egg with sugar in stainless steel or ceramic sauce pan
  • in separate bowl mix corn flour with 100ml milk
  • add the rest of milk
  • pour milk with corn flour into egg mixture, stir well with a whisk
  • add contents of vanilla pod (or alternatively 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or 1/2 tea spoon vanilla paste)
  • cook on low heat constantly stirring with a whisk, until the mixture thickens and starts boiling
  • remove from the heat and either cover with glad wrap to prevent the appearance of skin, or quickly cool in iced water constantly stirring
  • pastry cream have to be completely cool before using to assemble the cake
  • add lemon zest to cool cream, mix it in


  • mix both flours in a bowl
  • add butter, cut in cubes
  • using finger tips incorporate butter into flour mix until the texture of the mixture consists of small crumbs
  • lightly beat an egg with sugar and vanilla sugar
  • add grated lemon zest
  • add egg and sugar mix to flour mixture, mix both together and press to form a ball
  • press a ball to make a disk shape, cover with glad wrap and refrigerate for 30 min
  • divide pastry disk into 2 uneven pieces
  • roll the larger piece and use it as a bottom of the cake
  • place pastry on lined with baking paper baking pan (or tart pan with removable bottom, or baking tray)
  • place completely cooled down pastry cream, spread it level
  • cover with the second rolled pastry layer
  • make sure both pastry layers are closed on each other
  • use fork to make tiny holes in the top layer of the pastry
  • sprinkle pine nuts (or sliced almonds) on top


  • bake in preheated to 180C fan forced oven for 50-60min, until golden brown (the timing depends on the shape of the baking tray and the thickness of the cake)
  • let the cake completely cool before taking it out of the tray, if not using tart pan with removable bottom
  • dust with icing sugar


I used Pyrex glass pie baking tray to be sure that the sides and bottom of the cake were fully baked. However, in future I will use tart pan with removable bottom for two reasons. Firstly, pie baking dish was too deep for this cake and it took me 70 min of baking to have the top heavily covered with pine nuts to bake properly and have it light brown colour. It happened because the top of the cake sit in the middle of the baking dish and was baking as if it was covered, very slowly. The second reason would be the convenience of taking the cake out of the baking dish. It was quite difficult task to get the cake out without any damage. I am glad I managed to do that.

We enjoyed our Australia Day afternoon tea with this beautiful cake. It was the first time I used pine nuts in baking and I have to say, that they complimented this cake very nicely.


This is a delicate cake with a subtle vanilla flavour. I might me more generous with lemon zest both in the pastry and in the cream itself. The second piece of cake went well with strong black coffee.


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