Book Club Tuesday: Torta della Nonna

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Torta della Nonna by Emiko Davies — literally translated as “Grandmother’s Cake” — is a collection of classic Italian baking recipes. I have written before about the comfort that familiar recipes offer and, in the case of Emiko Davies’ latest book (a compilation of dessert recipes from her earlier Italian cookbooks — Florentine, Aquacotta, and Tortellini at Midnightreview here), she offers many recipes that are both familiar and beloved in Italy. Along with the recipes from her earlier books, Davies’ has also included some new recipes. In the introduction she speaks to the generational aspect of Italian recipes — passed down from mother to daughter (in her case Tuscan mother-in-law to daughter- in-law) — and, while flipping through Torta della Nonna, seeing Davies’ children and all the beautiful desserts, the reader can feel the recipes and love being passed to yet another generation.

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Torta al cioccolato (Chocolate Cake), p.19

The recipes within the book are organized into 8 chapters: Essenziali (Essentials), Colazione all’Italiana (Italian Breakfast), Dal forno di nonna (From nonna’s oven), Merende dolci (Sweet snacks), Biscotti (biscuits), Per festeggiare (For celebrations), Dolci al cucchiaio (To eat with a spoon), and Dolci gelati (Frozen treats). All the recipes rely on ingredients that you most likely have in your fridge/pantry — butter, eggs, flour, sugar, chocolate/cocoa, nuts, fruit, etc. Since the ingredients are quite easy to shop for, I think that this is a case of buying the best quality you can because with just a handful of ingredients in each recipe, you will taste the difference. All the recipes I made seemed like just the perfect accompaniment with afternoon coffee or something sweet for after supper. Homey and comforting recipes that are easy to make, and often require nothing more than a spoon or beaters and a bowl to mix up!

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Cioccolato e pane (Grilled Chocolate Sandwich), p. 83

One of the most noteworthy recipes in the book is the one for Torta al cioccolato (Chocolate Cake) because this recipe doesn’t require eggs or butter! I’d say this is remarkable because in my mind a cake made without either of these (seemingly key) ingredients wouldn’t be very palatable. Davies came across this recipe in Ada Boni’s classic cookbook — Il Talismano della Felicità — which was written in 1929. In the recipe, you mix cocoa, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, vanilla, and some liquid (choices range from cream to coconut milk but also include water or coffee). I’ve tried making this cake using cream and some of the alternative variations and they all turn out the same — producing a dense chocolate cake with a fudgy crumb. I like adding orange zest to mine and serving it with a dusting of powdered sugar. Something about this recipe speaks to the ingenuity of previous generations when, at times, people had to make more with less. I’ve noticed this in my grandmother’s cooking and, it proves that food doesn’t need to be complicated to be delicious.

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Paste di meliga (Polenta Biscuits), p.105

Torta della Nonna is full of recipes for the whole family to enjoy! If you were to ask my husband which recipe he loves from Torta della Nonna it would be the Cioccolato e pane (Grilled Chocolate Sandwich) because in his mind if it’s not cioccolato then it’s not dessert. Made with butter, bread, and chocolate, how could this not be everyone’s favourite?? This recipe is perfect for those occasions where you might not have the ingredients or time to bake dessert — instead, you can quickly grill up a sandwich full of melted chocolate. My daughter loves to enjoy hers with a glass of milk and, Davies’ enjoyed this for the first time alongside a glass of bicerin (like hot chocolate but more decadent). A treat my daughter loves from the book are the Paste di meliga (Polenta Biscuits). Crumbly in texture, flavoured with a bit of lemon zest, these cookies really appeal to her (quite possibly because they also taste great with milk). I appreciated the fact that these cookies are piped onto the baking sheet instead of the dough being rolled out then cut. These are also very hearty cookies because they will keep in an airtight container for two weeks (if you can resist temptation that long) or can be stored in the freezer to be enjoyed at a later date.

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Torta di mele e marmellata (Apple and Jam Cake), p.31

Curious about what I’m loving from Torta della Nonna? I have a fondness for the simple bakes that can be enjoyed alongside an afternoon coffee or tea or even for breakfast. One of my favourite recipes is for Torta di madorle di Nonna Vera (Nonna Vera’s Almond Cake) because it is so simple to make (this is one of the recipes where all you need is a fork and a bowl). This cake bakes up with such a lovely golden-brown crust and the almonds become slightly toasted, it tastes like perfection when served with fresh fruit (any segmented citrus is my choice here) and a dusting of powdered sugar. Another cake that I like is the Torta di mele e marmellata (Apple and Jam Cake). Baked in a loaf pan, this cake is so light and fluffy (due in part to the long time — 7 minutes — spent whipping the butter, sugar, and eggs). My daughter and I really enjoyed this for breakfast.

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Torta di mandorle di Nonna Vera (Nonna Vera’s Almond Cake), p.58

Torta della Nonna offers a touching collection of classic Italian dessert recipes that are beautifully photographed and described by Emiko Davies. I am a fan of Davies’ ability to impart the history and stories behind the recipes through her own experiences living in Italy and being part of her husband’s Italian family. 2021 is a big year for Davies as her first cookbook — Florentine — has been republished in a brand-new edition which includes a bonus city guide. This book is a gorgeous compendium of Florentine culinary history and recipes.

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I would like to take this opportunity to thank Hardie Grant Books and Raincoast Books for providing me with a free, review copy of Florentine and Torta della Nonna. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

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