Pinolata, Italian Pine Nut Cake, a dense but soft, mildly sweet, and nutty cake, it's the perfect dunk-in-your-coffee treat, ideal for breakfast/brunch, snack, or as a dessert. A classic cake, popular throughout Italy with variations according to the Region. A Pine Nut torta that seems to come straight out of grandma's oven.
I wish I could say that my passion for baking began watching my grandmother and mother in the kitchen creating sweet treats for our family to enjoy. Nothing like that. On the contrary, I "envy" a little bit the ones that can attribute their cakes to their grandma's recipe, or recall making it in the kitchen with their mom.
[This post is sponsored by The Italian Centre Shop. We’ve been compensated but -as always- all opinions are our own.]
Song of the day: Hunger by Florence and The Machine.
My grandma was absolutely incredible with fresh pasta; her skilled hands and precise rolling pin movements created the most wonderful fettuccine, tagliolini, lasagna sheets, without the use of any machine, not even the hand turning ones. Moreover, she was the wonderful cook of all the lavish meals we had when our big family would get together at their Sunday table. But as she didn't like sweets, at all, she never enjoyed baking, and cakes or any sweet treat was never to be found at her place. During kindergarten and elementary school she was the one to pick me up to bring me to her place until my mother got back from work. As my afternoon snack, I always asked for something sweet and her sweet treat for me was bread wet in water with sugar on top, or bread with Nutella (the Nutella in the glass featuring popular cartoon characters), or she would make beautiful "pizzette dolci", some kind of pizza dough made with baking soda that she would fry up in the pan and add sugar on top. That was a real treat!
As for my mother, she has always been on a health kick, so we never had butter in our house, or any packaged snacks or sweets, or any fruit or veggie that wasn't seasonal. Sometimes, she would make some kind of "cakes", without weighing any ingredients, with yogurt, milk, vegetable oil (always peanut oil), a spoonful of sugar, and unrefined flour as much as it would take to get to a somewhat balanced consistency, adding, at times, a few pieces of fruit. She would bake it in a square or rectangular pan, never paying too much attention to how it would look. Carnival was the only time of the year when she would indulge in making delicious sweets. Things like bignè, ravioli dolci, castagnole. There was one thing she made incredibly well and that I would "beg" for to make, and that was crema, the lemon-flavored pastry cream. Silky, not too thick, and not too sweet, with a wonderful lemon flavor. When my mom spooned the crema into a dish to cool, I would waste no time to get that smothered in crema piece of lemon rind and lick it clean followed by me and my trusted spoon scooping out any crema left in the pan. Needless to say, the pan was left clean!
So I guess I have to ascribe my passion for baking and baked goods to that childhood lack of cakes, cookies, and sweet treats. Baking or playing with dough are the things I like doing the most. I could spend hours in the kitchen in a baking meditative state. Then after, eating and the sharing is also important, but not as fulfilling as the act of making. That is pure bliss for me.
As for this Pinolata, Italian Pine Nut Cake, I found the recipe in an old Italian cookbook about classic cakes, some very popular, some almost forgotten. Loreto and I, love pine nuts and we always buy them at The Italian Centre Shop to make our pesto, but this time they are going into and on top of this cake. This recipe requires a good amount of them, they are not only on the top where they get nice and toasted and crunchy but also, chopped, in the batter, which makes for a denser cake with a delicious nutty flavor with a surprise hits of texture. We lowered the amount a little bit, but they are still the main character of this torta.
There is something about a torta coming out of the oven with its amazing aroma. Loreto describes it as peaceful and heartwarming, and look at the color, that golden brown hue. I love the top with that crystallized sugar crust and those beautifully toasted pine nuts nestled in the fine morsels of sugar.
I have to be honest, I am at times fearful and doubtful when I am in the kitchen. My thoughts get the best of me and I start thinking I don't know if this is going to be good. Is this recipe really going to work ending in I hope it tastes good. In comes Loreto and he reassures me that it is going to be fantastic and he takes me back to all the things I have prepared and how much everyone enjoys them. He says if you make something with love and take expectation out of the mix it has nothing but goodness in it and will be amazing. As usual, he is right and this torta looks absolutely delicious. Now that my confidence is up I am so excited to cut into this Pinolata, Italian Pine Nut Cake, and really experience its flavors!
The first mouthful (not a forkful for me, as I never eat this kind of cake with a fork), reveals this crust, buttery, nutty and a crispiness thanks to the crystallized sugar and pine nuts. The interior houses a delicate tenderness with delectable crumbles and lightly sweet and honey-like flavor notes. What I love about this cake is that it holds nicely together and that means, yes, you guessed it, into my cup of coffee it goes and how amazingly it soaks up that coffee and how wonderful the nutty wholesomeness of this cake marries so well with the deep bold notes of the coffee. If you're a tea drinker I truly believe that it will also be fantastic.
Next time you are at The Italian Centre Shop, or any market you frequent and you see these wonderful pale pearls of nutty goodness (the pine nuts) pick some up and get that oven preheated and spend the afternoon in your kitchen bringing back memories of childhood and baking in your home. The best part is when you're done, pour that cup of coffee or tea, sit back, put your feet up and cut a nice slice of this Pinolata, Italian Pine Nut Cake. Be proud of what you created and savor each mouthful.
Pinolata, Italian Pine Nut Cake, a dense but soft, mildly sweet and nutty cake, it's the perfect dunk-in-your-coffee treat, ideal for breakfast/brunch, snack, or as a dessert. A classic cake, popular throughout Italy with variations according to the Region. A Pine Nut torta that seems to come straight out of grandma's oven.
- 250 g granulated sugar
- 160 g butter, at room temperature
- 4 eggs, organic free-range, divided
- ½ lemon, zest and juice
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 300 g flour 00
- 16 g baking powder
- 125 g pine nuts
For the topping
- 1 egg white
- 50 g granulated sugar
- 25 g pine nuts
- Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C). Grease and line a 22-24 cm round springform pan.
- Melt the butter and let it cool. Roughly chop the pine nuts.
- Squeeze the lemon, keep the juice aside. Grate the zest and add it to the sugar, massaging it into the sugar.
- Separate the egg yolks from the whites in 2 different bowls. Beat the egg yolks with the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar flavored with the lemon zest, the lemon juice and keep beating until all incorporated.
- Sift the flour and the baking powder. Add it to the batter by the spoonful, slowly and gently incorporating it.
- Beat the egg whites until stiff and add it slowly to the batter, incorporating it with circular movements from the bottom to the top.
- Lastly, add the chopped pine nuts and fold gently.
- Pour the thick batter into the prepared pan and cook in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes. Check it, poking with a skewer the center of the cake, if it comes out clean it's done.
- In the meantime, beat the egg white with the sugar. Set aside.
- Take the cake out of the oven, quickly but gently spread the egg white/sugar on top. Add the rest of the pine nuts and sprinkle some additional sugar on top. Put it back in the oven, turn on the broiler on low, and cook the top for about 5 minutes.
- Let cool on a rack.
It keeps in an airtight container or a glass cake stand with lid for 2-3 days then it starts to harden.
- Category: Dessert, Cakes
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Italian