jayellebee's Blog

December 9, 2012

Italian Dessert Torte

Pasta Frolla

Pasta Frolla

Here is my Christmas gift to you – an authentic recipe brought to America from the Italian alps in 1916.   Handed down through the generations, my husband’s family enjoys this “torte” on special occasions.  But to fully appreciate the rich pastry, before you savor the dense,sweet goodness, you need to know the history.

Madalena Bugna traveled by horse-drawn wagon from the neighboring towns of San Nazaro and San Bartelomeo (north of Lake Como near the Swiss border) to Italy’s Mediterranean coast.  There she boarded a steamer, sharing quarters with three women whom she had never met before, and crossed the Atlantic to New York.  After passing through Ellis Island, this brave young woman rode a train west.  Transiting the North American continent turned out to the hardest leg of her journey.  The herky-jerky motion of the passenger car was rougher than what she experienced at sea, resulting in motion sickness.  When Madalena arrived in Sacramento, California, a telegram was sent to her betrothed, Augusto Rossi.  Augusto had emigrated earlier and sent for Madalena once he had opened a dry goods store in Kennett, a copper mining town the remnants of which are now deep below Lake Shasta.  Trusting and patient, Madalena waited in the train station three days for Augusto to make his way to her, marry her, and take her home with him.    The following recipe shared every inch of her adventure.


3 C Flour                                                    2 Eggs                                                                 2 tsp Vanilla

1-1/2 C Sugar                                           Rind of 1/2 Lemon, minced                     1/2 Lb Butter

3 tsp Baking Powder                             1 tsp Lemon extract

blog pix 111

Sift together:  flour, sugar and baking soda.

If you don’t have your English grandmother’s sifter, a whisk should do the trick.

blog pix 113

Madalena didn’t have a food processor, but that’s no reason we can’t use one.

Place sifted dry ingredients in the bowl of processor fitted with metal blade.  Add eggs, lemon rind, lemon extract, vanilla, and butter.  Mix until dough begins to come together.  The dough will be very crumbly at this point.

blog pix 116

Knead dough on lightly floured surface until it pulls together into a smooth ball. This shouldn’t take more than 2-3 minutes.

blog pix 117

Reserve about 1/3 C of dough.  Pat remaining dough into an ungreased 9″ spring form pan.  If you don’t have your grandmother’s (well-used) pan, you’ll need to find a new one.  Roll chunks of the reserved dough into 1/2″ diameter ropes.  Place these end-to-end around the inside perimeter of the pan.  Spread apricot jam on top of the torte.

If desired, flatten the last of the dough and use a cookie cutter to make a festive shape to adorn the cake.

blog pix 118

Place a cookie sheet on the bottom shelf in  a cold oven just in case your spring form pan leaks.  This will catch melting butter from the dough before it mucks up the floor of your oven.  Trust me, it’s cheap insurance.

Bake your Pasta Frolla on the next shelf up for 1 hour and 45 minutes at 300 degrees.

The dessert can be served warm, but it will cut more easily if allowed to cool in the pan on a rack.

Pasta Frolla can be made days in advance of need, and it travels beautifully.  I recommend you set manners aside and eat slices with your fingers – the cake is pretty hard and you won’t want to waste any crumbs.  If you’re a coffee person, be sure to try dunking.  Mangia bene.



  1. Such a great story to pass onto your family Joanne as well as what appears to be a delicious dessert.

    Comment by Nina — December 9, 2012 @ 10:29 pm | Reply

  2. I have my grandmother’s sifter which is a duplicate of yours. Also my mother’s is the same, too. If the house burns down, I have many of these such items to grab! Only sentimental, nothing would be downright valuable to others. Thank you for sharing your story and the yummy sounding dessert.

    Comment by lizbooks — December 10, 2012 @ 3:36 pm | Reply

  3. Love this recipe! Enjoyed reading the story that went with it. I don’t think I would have waited that long 🙂

    Comment by Fanny — December 10, 2012 @ 4:52 pm | Reply

  4. What a lovely story! I would love to know more about this woman of courage and determination. What happened to her? to them? to her family? Where did they go when Shasta filled over the town? Aha! Your next YA novel!

    Comment by Jean Georgakopoulos — December 28, 2012 @ 7:19 pm | Reply

  5. This post is very helpful, thank you! Much appreciated!

    Comment by Darryl — June 19, 2013 @ 1:21 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.