My granddad Remigio used to walk with a cane, more for habit than necessity, and often waved it like Charlie Chaplin. He also had the same funny walk, and loved to wear his hat at a jaunty.
Once in a while, when mum was at work, I spent an afternoon with him in San Gimignano. Our main activity was going to the park to pick up the pine nuts. The park was right outside the city walls, with gravel paths surrounding the shady flower beds and big pine trees, huge.
Now the park is unfortunately different, they cut down my huge shady pine trees, but if I close my eyes I can still hear the gravel crunching under my child feet, and the balsamic smell of the pine resin, the birichicchero, as my granddad called it.
After the walk with my eyes pointed down in the winding gravel paths searching for the tiny precious gifts, I sat in the entrance of my granddad’s house, on a marble staircase, and opened the pine nuts with a small hammer that he kept just for us grandchildren. The hammer blows, a bit insecure, roared into the hall and the pine nuts shells flew everywhere.
I ate one pine nut after the other with my hands blackened by the fairy pine nut shell dust, leaving just a tiny handful for a possible cake. That’s why I waited so long to make my first pine nut cake! This is a recipe with a long story, my favourite kind of recipes as you may already know, just like last year Laura’s Sacher Torte.
This year the protagonist is Rita, Laura’s mother. This is Rita’s pine nut cake, passed on by Giuliana, who seems to have had the recipe from a famous Sienese pastry shop… here the mystery deepens, but since it is Christmas I want to tell you this perfect recipe. The pine nut cake recipe had all the credentials to succeed, I had tasted it several times at Laura’s and I really wanted to bake it again, that’s the result!
Tuscan pine nut cake
- 180 g of butter at room temperature
- 150 g of caster sugar
- 3 free range eggs
- 180 g of organic tender wheat flour
- 10 g of baking powder
- 1 handful of shelled pine nuts
For the custard:
- 3 free range egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons of caster sugar
- 2 tablespoons of organic tender wheat flour
- 500 ml of whole milk
- 2 tablespoons of raisins, soaked in Vinsanto, Tuscan sweet wine
- As first thing, make the custard, you'll need it to be cold when you will add it to the cake. Heat the milk in a saucepan until it starts to simmer, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and flour, then pour in the hot milk in a thin stream, stirring continuously with a whisk. Put the custard on a low flame and stir constantly until it begins to thicken: remove it from the heat, add the raisins and let it cool.
- Preheat oven to 180°C.
- Whip the butter at room temperature with the sugar for a few minutes until it becomes creamy and light.
- Add the eggs gradually, one after the other, waiting for the first to be completely mixed before adding the second. Stir in the flour sifted with the baking powder.
- Grease and flour a 23 cm wide round baking tin.
- Separate the dough into two equal parts with the help of a spoon: put a spoonful of batter into the baking tin and one in a pastry bag, and so on, until you've finished. Level the batter into the baking tin, spread the cold custard over it, then add the remaining batter in concentric circles, trying not to mix it with the custard. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top and bake for 40 minutes.
- When golden brown, remove it from the oven, let it cool for a few minutes, then gently remove it from the mould and when completely cold, dust the cake with icing sugar.
The recipe, tried and perfected for years by more than one family, is a reliable one: it is simple to make and gives a tremendous satisfaction to take it out from the oven, hot and sprinkled with toasted pine nuts, not to mention to eat it, with a fondant custard heart dotted with juicy raisins soaked in sweet wine. Talking about the silky custard, don’t miss the recipe, it has become the standard procedure to make custard at home!
Now just have a look at this slice of pine nut cake, it looks exactly like the cake showed in the San Gimignano pastry shop windows I looked at with greedy eyes coming back home from the park with my granddad, with one hand secured into his huge hand and the other one holding tightly my bag of pine nuts.