serves: 6 servings
Biancomangiare is a very old milk-pudding dessert that food historians say has been made since the Middle Ages, in countries from the Middle East to Scandinavia. And though I am fascinated by this tradition, I am delighted with this modern Biancomangiare, which I had recently in Valle d'Aosta. Rich with cream, flavored with both vanilla bean and almond extract, and molded in individual ramekins, it is quite similar to panna cotta. So, if you and your family like panna cotta, you will love this, too.
The puddings are lovely as is, simply unmolded onto plates, with the caramel syrup that lines the ramekins. And they're even better served with poached fruit in season, such as poached pears or cherries. For an extra-special touch, have the poached fruit ready when you make the biancomangiare. Place a pear half or a few big cherries in the bottom of each ramekin or cup just before filling with the sweet pudding mixture. When you unmold it, the biancomangiare will be crowned with the fruit and glistening with caramel.
¾ cups sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
½ teaspoon almond extract
6 pears, halved and poached (optional)
24 Bing cherries, pitted and poached (optional)
Put 6 tablespoons of the sugar and 1/3 cup water in a small skillet, and set it over medium heat. Bring to a boil without stirring, the sugar will dissolve into a syrup. Let it bubble away without stirring or shaking the pan for 10 minutes or more as the syrup and the bubbles thicken, until syrup starts to take on color, usually near the edge of the skillet. Lower the heat, and swirl the syrup so it caramelizes evenly. When it is a uniform copper color, carefully pour the hot caramel in equal amounts into ramekins. Tilt and swirl each ramekin so the caramel coats the whole bottom evenly.
Pour the milk and cream into the saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, and scrape the sticky seeds into the milk. Stir in the remaining sugar; drop the split, scraped bean pod in, too. Set the pan over medium heat, and heat slowly to a simmer. Sprinkle in the gelatin, whisking constantly until completely dissolved, then turn off the heat. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, stir in the almond extract, and pour through a strainer into a large, spouted measuring cup.
Fill the ramekins with biancomangiare in equal amounts. Set them in the refrigerator overnight, or until set.
To unmold, run the tip of a paring knife around the edge of the ramekins, set a dessert plate on top, and invert-tap the ramekin if necessary to release the pudding. Serve topped with poached fruit and poaching syrup.