This creamy custard dessert was originally baked in a bowl, chilled, and then unmolded before serving. The Piedmontese call the rich, chocolaty custard bonèt, which means small, round cap in the local dialect.
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 3 cups milk
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
- 12 amaretti, finely crushed (about 3/4 cup)
- 1 Tbs. rum
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
Have ready an 8-inch round ceramic or glass baking dish. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup of the sugar and the water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 3 minutes. As soon as the sugar dissolves, stop stirring and wash down any sugar crystals from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Continue to cook until the mixture boils and begins to turn brown around the edges, then gently swirl the pan over the heat until the syrup is an even golden brown. This will take about 5 minutes. Immediately pour the caramel into the reserved dish and swirl to coat the bottom evenly. Set aside; the caramel will cool and harden.
Position a rack in the middle of an oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk, stirring occasionally, until small bubbles appear around the edges of the pan. Remove from the heat.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the remaining 1 cup sugar until blended. Stir in the cocoa, crushed amaretti, rum and vanilla until combined. Gradually pour in the hot milk while whisking constantly.
Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into the caramel-lined dish. Place the dish in the center of a large shallow baking pan, and carefully pour very hot water into the pan to reach about halfway up the sides of the dish.
Bake the custard until the top is set but the center is still soft and jiggly when the dish is shaken, about 50 minutes. Carefully transfer the dish to a rack and let cool slightly. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
To serve, run a small knife around the inside edge of the dish. Invert a flat serving plate on top of the dish, and then invert them together. Lift off the dish and serve the custard immediately, cut into wedges. Serves 8.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Italian by Michele Scicolone (Oxmoor House, 2007).