Almond, like rice, is a favorite flavor for desserts among the Italians, especially in Sicily which is a major source of them. The most beautiful time to go to Sicily is in late February when the mandarolo é in fiore(or the almond trees are in bloom). The whole countryside is in flower, perfumed with the sweet, buttery smell of almonds. From these almonds comes marzipan–so it is no wonder Sicily has a tremendous repertoire of marzipan-based sweets. Latte di mandorle (almond milk)–made by steeping crushed almonds in water–is sold in the pasticcerie of Sicily and is a refreshing way to wash the sweets down.
- 4 cups milk
- 1/2 cup crushed amaretti cookies (about 12 whole)
- 1/2 cup Amaretto or other almond-flavored liqueur
- 2/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 3 eggs, separated
In a small bowl, stir 1/4 cup of the milk, the crushed cookies and the liqueur until blended. Set aside for 1 hour.
Prepare the caramel-lined molds. Before making the caramel have eight 8-ounce ceramic ramekins or heatproof glass baking dishes near at hand. Make a caramel with 1/2 cup of the sugar and the water in a medium-size, heavy skillet. Immediately remove the caramel from the heat–it will continue to darken from the heat retained in the pan–and pour it into the ramekins, dividing the caramel evenly. Set them aside, remembering they will retain heat for several minutes.
Combine the amaretti mixture and the remaining 2/3 cup sugar in a blender and blend at low speed until smooth. In a medium-size, heavy saucepan, stir the remaining 3 3/4 cups milk and the cornstarch until the cornstarch is dissolved. Scrape the amaretti mixture into the saucepan and place over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is simmering. Simmer until thickened enough to coat a spoon, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and cool to body temperature, stirring often to prevent a skin from forming on the surface.
Meanwhile, place a deep baking dish or roasting pan on the center rack of the oven and pour in enough warm water to fill it halfway. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Add the butter and egg yolks alternately to the milk mixture, whisking well until each addition is incorporated before adding another. In a small bowl beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they form and hold stiff peaks when the beaters are removed. Pour the pudding mixture into the prepared ramekins and place them in the water bath. Bake until the puddings are evenly set–that is, when you shake them, they jiggle evenly, and don’t appear firm around the edges and liquid in the center–about 40 minutes.
Remove the puddings from the water bath and cool completely before serving. (The puddings may also be refrigerated for up to one day before serving.)
To serve, invert the puddings onto serving plates. Wait a moment for the caramel sauce to seep onto the plate, and then lift the ramekin. The pudding should unmold very easily. Serve the pudding warm with vanilla, chocolate or zabaglione sauce.