Friday, February 22, 2008

Pine Nut Torta

Desserts in Tuscany tend to be quite simple and rustic but are nonetheless extraordinary in taste and texture. Many Italian desserts feature nuts as a central ingredient and today's little cake is no exception. Pine Nut Torta is a delicate and gorgeous escapade into the Italian landscape that will fill you with appreciation for the simple and elegant things in life.

On a recent journey through lots of recipe press clippings and food magazine remnants, I came across this recipe and immediately put it near the top of my list. I love pine nuts and since fresh fruit pickings are pretty slim this time of year, the accompanying autumn fruit compote sounded especially welcome.

This recipe is easy and the whole thing comes together in a cinch. The result is a buttery sliver of a cake that is not too sweet. Although it's full of pine nut richness, it has the quality of being rather light. And the scent of roasting pine nuts wafts through the kitchen as the torta bakes. The fruit compote is a delicious dessert in its own right and would also be great with ice cream. Pine Nut Torta with Marsala-Poached Autumn Fruit is the kind of dessert that calls for a crackling fire and all the time in the world.

Bench notes:
- If you have a thing about prunes, substitute your favorite dried fruit. Dried cherries would work well. The compote can be made 2 days ahead. Store in an airtight container in your refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.
- Marsala is a wine produced in Marsala, Sicily. Be sure you purchase sweet Marsala for desserts rather than dry Marsala, which is often used in savory dishes such as Chicken Marsala.
- Suggested baking time is 30 minutes. However, my oven does run hot and my torta baked in 20 minutes. Start checking it at 20 minutes to be sure you don't over bake. It should be a light, beautiful golden color with some browning at the edges. A tester should come out clean.

Pine Nut Torta With Marsala-Poached Autumn Fruit
adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes 8 to 10 servings

3 C water
1 C sweet Marsala
1/4 C sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 4-inch-long strip lemon peel (yellow part only)
2 C pitted prunes
2 C dried apricots

5 oz butter (1 1/4 sticks) @ room temperature
1 C sugar
1 1/2 t (packed) lemon zest
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 C flour
3 large egg yolks @ room temperature
1 large egg @ room temperature
1/4 t salt
3/4 C pine nuts (about 3 1/2 ounces)
powdered sugar

Fruit Compote:
Combine Marsala water, sugar, cinnamon stick and lemon peel in a saucepan. Bring to boil to dissolve sugar. Lower heat, add dried fruit and simmer about 25 minutes until the fruit softens. The fruit should retain its shape and not be mushy. Remove fruit to a bowl. Bring the sauce to a boil and reduce until syrupy, about 5 minutes. Pour syrup over fruit.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour a 10-inch-diameter springform pan.

Whisk together egg yolks, egg and salt.
Beat butter and sugar until pale and creamy.
Add lemon zest and vanilla and blend thoroughly.
Slowly add flour, mixing until it begins to resemble coarse meal.
Gently stir in egg mixture and using a rubber spatula, fold together until just combined. The batter will be thick.
Pour into prepared pan and smooth batter. Sprinkle the top evenly with pine nuts and press gently a bit to be sure they are embedded in the batter.
Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 - 30 minutes.
Cool on a rack. Run thin-bladed knife around edges to loosen and remove the springform ring. Cool completely.

Torta can be made 1 day ahead, covered and stored at room temperature.

Sprinkle with a very light dusting of powdered sugar. Serve with fruit compote.


aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Fantastic. I'd completely forgotten about this tart - thanks for reminding me! Yours looks beautiful, and I love the addition of the fruits with it.

Anonymous said...

O tasty pine nut pastry