Pinolata, Italian Pine Nut Cake, a dense but soft, mildly sweet, and nutty cake, it's the perfect tea or coffee treat, ideal for breakfast/brunch, snack, or 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.
Song of the day: Hunger by Florence and The Machine.
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.
My grandma was absolutely incredible with fresh pasta; her skilled hands and precise rolling pin movements created the most wonderful fettuccine without the use of any machine, not even the hand turning ones. Moreover, she was the wonderful cook of all the lavish meals of our Sunday lunches. 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, for my afternoon snack, she would make me pane e zucchero, bread wet in water with sugar on top, or bread with Nutella (the Nutella in the glass featuring popular cartoon characters). Sometimes, 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!
My mom's baking
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. Also, any vegetables that wasn't seasonal. Sometimes, she would make some kind of "cakes", without weighing any ingredients. She would use yogurt, milk, vegetable oil, a spoonful of sugar, and often fruit. Adding an unrefined flour as much as it would take to get to a somewhat balanced consistency. She would bake it in a square or rectangular pan, never paying too much attention on the look.
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. That is pure bliss for me.
Pinolata, an Italian classic cake
I found the recipe for this Pinolata, 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 our Italian store to make 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, but also chopped, in the batter. This makes for a denser cake with a delicious nutty flavor with a surprise hits of texture.
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.
This Pinolata looks absolutely delicious. I am so excited to cut into it, and really experience its flavors!
The taste test
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 texture is delicate with delectable crumbles and lightly sweet, and honey-like flavor notes. This cake 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. The nutty wholesomeness of this cake marries so well with the deep bold notes of the coffee. However, 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 pine nuts, pick some up. Then, 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, and cut a nice slice of this Pinolata, Italian Pine Nut Cake. Be proud of what you created and savor each mouthful.
- 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 vanilla, and 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 40-45 minutes. Every oven is different, so I would suggest to check the cake after 30 minutes and go from there. 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 1-2 minutes. Watch it as it may burn quickly.
- Take out of the oven and 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.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 45 minutes
- Category: Dessert, Cakes
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: pine nuts, italian, cake, pinolata, dessert, delicious, butter, homemade
[This post is sponsored by The Italian Centre Shop. We’ve been compensated but -as always- all opinions are our own.]
I love baking and kneading dough because it takes me to a happy place in my soul.