MOTHER’S DAY IN ITALY and TORTA DELLA MAMA
Buona Festa della Mamma.
Godere. Goditi il tuo giorno special
a tutte le Madri, Nonne, Madrine e Matrigne e
Tutti quelli che si chiamano Mama!
Le Benedizioni di Dio
Su tutti voi.
Wherever in the world they may be, mothers are the essence and enforcers of family traditions. For Italians it is very much the same. The most important figure in the life of an Italian is “Mama”. It is often remarked that many Italian men are so devoted and attached to their Mothers that they are dubbed “mammoni” or Mama’s boys.
It is noted that Mother’s Day has been celebrated in Italy since 1933. From family stories that I’ve heard I know that it was celebrated in homes long before that. Although the celebration in Italy and many other homes may be very simple, it remains one of the most important days in Italian households following Christmas and Easter!
The day is usually celebrated at home with Mama surrounded by family enjoying a traditional meal (she has probably cooked or helped cook) and followed by a very special cake that differs from region to region and most probably house to house and called Torta della Mamma or Torta della Nonna. When I was in Italy several years ago on Mother’s Day it was a joyous occasion with hugs and kisses and greetings and flowers everywhere you looked. I remember being given a rose and a kiss from a young usher as I entered Church. In Church before Mass began there were hugs and kisses being passed around throughout to old and young, family and friends and strangers.
Here is a recipe that was passed down to me by my Aunt. This is a cake I have watched her make for Mother’s Day for my Nonna. I even though young, probably helped too because I liked to bake. My Mother did not bake and did not like to ever turn the oven on because it made our apartment so warm. So our cake for her on Mother’s Day and every other special occasion such as birthdays was simply this: 2 sponge layers made by Drakes Cakes, with fresh strawberries crushed and spread in between the layers and frosted with whipped cream and fresh strawberries on top. Plain, simple and, yes, delicious.
TORTA DELLA MAMA
9 ½-inch round cake pan
I prefer to use a springform pan
(greased and floured)
preheat oven to 350°
For Pastry Dough:
2 ¾ cups all purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup butter – cut into dice size pieces
1 egg and 1 egg yolk – room temperature
Zest of 1 large lemon
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup pignoli
Sift together the flour, sugar and baking powder with a pinch of salt on a pastry board or marble slab. Make a well in the center. Lightly beat the eggs and add them with the butter and lemon zest into the well. Using your hands gradually incorporate all the dry ingredients and knead lightly.
(This is my version of that part; sift flour, sugar, baking powder, salt in the bowl of a food processor. With the pastry blade inserted and the motor running, slowly add the diced butter, eggs and lemon zest. Pulse it until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl. Remove and place on pastry board. Knead for a few minutes until it all comes together in a ball. Obviously back then my Aunt did not have a food processor).
Divide the dough into two pieces, making the one piece that will fit into the pan larger than the piece that will cover the top. Shape them into a ball and wrap individually in saran and place in refrigerator to cool while you make the filling.
For the Filling:
2 ¼ cups whole milk plus a few tsps more.
Zest from a large lemon
3 egg yolks
2/3 cups sugar – superfine if you have it handy
(you can also make this by running granulated sugar
around in your food processor. I don’t bother!)
½ cup all purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract or a touch more to your taste
A pinch of Nutmeg – optional
Pour the milk into a pan with the lemon zest and bring just to a boil
But do not let it boil. Set aside off heat. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar in a bowl until pale and lemon colored and light and fluffy. Add the Nutmeg if using. Gently fold in the flour and vanilla and slowly add the milk. Mix well until all combined and then pour back into the pan. Cook this mixture over low heat stirring constantly until the mixture can coat the back of a teaspoon. Remove from the heat and let cool. You can stir occasionally to prevent a skin rom forming or simply place a piece of Saran directly on the filling.
Roll out the larger piece of dough on a lightly floured board into a round that is slightly larger than the cake pan. Carefully fit it into the pan, securing it slightly to stick to the sides of the pan and leave an overhang.
Spoon the cool filling into the pastry. Lay the extra dough lightly on the filling and brush with some beaten egg. Roll out the other piece of dough and place on top of the filling, sealing the edges well. Brush the entire surface with beaten egg and sprinkle with pignoli. Bake for 40 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.