Tortas & Pies
The Italian word TORTA means both cake and pie. In my family it always means a delicious sweet pie. There are three types of tortas my family makes most often. My favorite, and the sweetest of all, is the chocolate torta. Chocolate torta is a mainstay, always found on the dessert table at family celebrations. The other two, the rice and lemon tortas, usually find their way onto the Easter dessert menu. More recently family members, like my cousins, David and Connie, share a lovely addition of a Crostata di Frutta, to their Easter meal. No matter the type of tortas, the tradition is passing from one generation to the next. According to my cousin, Mary Sue, the passing will likely skip a generation as the family's baby boomers are praying their grandchildren will be more receptive to learning the old ways in spite of the time consuming torta-prep time.
In a discussion of Great Aunts, I received a lovely string of emails from my cousins, Mary Sue and David. The emails touch on torta making so I thought it would be fun to share their thoughts...
Mary Sue writes..."I went over to Aunt Dorina’s one day. She was going to teach me how to make the crust for Rice Torta. Specifically the ‘de pecio’, which is the outside edge of the crust. This is truly an art. It involves all your fingers and thumb on your left hand. Each finger and thumb has a specific task and position. All five digits must work together. Simultaneously you are holding a knife in your right hand. To say this entails a lot of practice is an understatement. This takes an enormous amount of practice. Since we only make Rice Torta for Easter, it becomes a bit of a challenge to create the ‘de pecio’ each year. So my dear Aunt Dorina, my godmother, set out one day to teach me. We started in the morning. We practiced and we practiced and we practiced. Finally Aunt Dorina told me to go home and practice. When I got home I called my dad (no cell phones). What I did not know was Aunt Dorina took a nap everyday. Eventually we were encroaching into the time when Aunt Dorina took her daily nap. Well now dad thought Dorina telling me to go home and practice was so funny that he called Aunt Dorina to tease her. Eventually Aunt Dorina stopped making Rice Torta. I started making them and taking them to Aunt Dorina. She was very honest in her critique of my Rice Torta ( plus any other food I took over). It is impossible to comprehend my excitement when Aunt Dorina told me my de pecios were perfect!
David (her brother) replies... "Mary Sue, I enjoyed your remembrance of cooking with Aunt Dorina. I can see her telling you to go home and practice. Dad really got a kick out of that."
And then David shares..."Lucca is known for the design that cooks place around the edge of their tortas. They refer to it as the "bird's beak" design or in Italian "becchi". When I was in Italy last (2017), I was walking through Lucca and took the attached photo in a pastry shop display window which reminded me so much of the torta shells that Mary Sue makes. Though, I have to say, Mary Sue's shells look better than the ones in the photo (see below)."
David's photo of Lucca pastry shop tortas
Mary Sue, and granddaughter, Caroline's rice torta,
READY TO BAKE.
CLICK HERE for more photos.
REGULAR PIE CRUST RECIPE & TIPS
Below are the original introduction to pies and tortas in the Delicious Memories cookbook page 118. Since that publication I have found that creating pie crusts in a food processor produces superior results. Also, somewhere along the line I heard a tip. If you replace 1/2 the water in the recipe with vodka, the crust will bake up flakier. I have tried this on occasion with great results.
PIE CRUST RECIPE:
Using a Cuisinart food processor with a dough blade
ADD: to the bowl 2 CUPS all-purpose flour with 1 TEASPOON salt
PULSE mixture to disperse salt.
ADD: in small chunks 1/2 CUPS cold shortening and 1/4 CUP butter
Pulse until mixture in bowl until has the appearance of coarse crumbs.
BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVER PROCESS.
Finally, ADD 4 to 8 TABLESPOONS water until mixture forms loose ball.
Remove ball and cut in 1/2. Chill dough and follow tips below for best results.