Making Sicilian Almond Milk Pudding (Biancomangiare Siciliano)
August is one of the hottest and most popular months of the year in Sicily and it is also the month when one of the biggest holidays in Italy, Ferragosto, takes place which is celebrated on the 15th. Everyone takes the day off and heads to the beach. Traditionally Ferragosto marks the start of Italy's summer holidays. Northern Italian cities are deserted as everyone heads south to Sicily leaving signs on their businesses saying "Goodbye until 1st September".
During the hot balmy summers in Sicily light desserts are a blessing and with watermelons being in such abundance at this time of year one of the most popular summer desserts that Sicilian's make is Gelo di Melone which is a delicious, light, fresh and colourful watermelon pudding.
Another light dessert popular on the island is Biancomangiare Siciliano which is a delicious pudding made with latte di mandorle (almond milk).
Biancomangiare, or biancu manciari in Sicilian dialect, literally translates to 'white dish' which makes it quite a plain looking dessert but it makes up for itself with its fragrant ingredients and decoration is the key in making this dessert look heavenly and oh so tempting.
Biancomangiare has a long history dating back to the middle ages and by the end of the 14th Century it was known as a refined dish at most European noble banquets. The word Biancomangiare was a generic name used for all white food stuffs, both sweet and savoury, such as chicken, rice, milk, lard, white breadcrumbs, white sugar and ground almonds.
It is thought that it was the Arabs, after introducing sugar cane to Sicily, who invented this dish making the Biancomangiare Siciliano one of the most famous and traditional white foods in Italy because of its Arabic influence and flavours.
The dish is made using almond milk delicately flavoured with lemon zest and cinnamon, with the optional choice of a perfumed infusion of orange blossom water for a Sicilian influence or rosewater for a Arabic influence. Cornflour is used as a natural thickener to give it a jelly or blancmange type of set consistency. In France biancomangiare is known as blanc manger.
Being dairy-free almond milk contains no lactose at all, making it a suitable milk replacement that makes this a great dessert for people with lactose intolerance. Almonds are packed with essential vitamins and minerals like Vitamin E, zinc, calcium, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids, therefore this nut can do a world of good when it comes to your health.
Of course the best almond milk is made from Sicilian almonds. Almond in Sicilian dialect is mendula.
Beautiful almond trees adorn the Sicilian countryside and in late February and early March these trees come into blossom with delicate pinkish white flowers and the scent is overwhelming. The almond blossoming is celebrated at this time of year in one of Sicily's most famous festivals signifying that spring is awakening on the island. This festival is held in Agrigento which is well known for the famed valley of the temples that set the scene for the nutty festivities. Aside from Agrigento another part of the island famous for its almond production is Avola.
Sicilian almonds start to be harvested in July through to September. When we visit food markets around Sicily precious almonds are always for sale and are sold in many ways from whole nuts, chopped, flaked and ground. Almonds are always a staple ingredient kept in my Sicilian kitchen and very few are exported beyond Sicily.
A sharp tongue in Sicilian dialect is "pizzuta" which also refers to the famous sweet almonds grown around the island. The word derives from the shape of the almond shell that curves round and ends with a sharp point.
Biancomangiare is included in the list of traditional Italian foods and it is protected by The Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies of Italy.
This dessert is not often found on restaurant menus but you can usually find it amongst other tempting treats in a pasticceria. This dessert is simple to make at home and is made with just four basic ingredients and is really popular with children.
The first time I tasted this dessert was when we were visiting Etnahub, a language and cultural centre located in a restored 19th century winery near Acireale. They also offer Sicilian cooking classes and the founders Carlo and Anita, together with fabulous cooking teacher Roberta, tempted us with this fragrantly infused treat for afternoon tea amongst other sweet delicacies and they explained how to make it.
At the moment Sicily is experiencing an intense heatwave with temperatures reaching over 40+C, meanwhile we are still stuck in London due to Covid travel restrictions between UK and Italy and experiencing one the wettest summers I have ever known. So to cheer us up a bit I decided to have a go at making this simple dessert to remind us of Sicilian summers.
Here is the recipe, of course you can have a go at making your own almond milk but I just picked up a carton from my local supermarket:
Biancomangiare Siciliano (Sicilian Almond Milk Pudding)
1L Almond Milk
1 Sicilian Lemon (Zested)
200g of Caster Sugar
1 Pinch of Cinnamon
120g of Cornflour
2 tbsp of Orange Blossom Water or Rosewater (optional)
A few Toasted Flaked Almonds
To make the pudding, keep aside a glass of almond milk and pour the remaining milk into a small saucepan and heat slowly. Add the caster sugar, the grated lemon zest and a pinch of cinnamon. Save a little bit of lemon zest for decoration.
Melt the cornflour into the glass of almond milk and then add it to the saucepan. Keep stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until there are no lumps and as soon as the mixture starts to boil and thicken remove the saucepan from the heat and mix in the orange blossom water or rosewater if using.
Pour the thick almond mixture into single moulds or a big jelly or blancmange mould. If you do not have moulds you can use decorative glass dishes or even tall glasses. I cheated a bit and used silicone cup cake cases.
Let the mixture cool down and then when it is cold keep it chilled in the fridge.
When you are ready to eat or proudly present your biancomangiare unmould them onto plates and sprinkle them with a little sieved cinnamon, toasted flaked almonds and a little bit of lemon zest to make them look pretty and ta-dah there you have a gorgeous dessert that will be the talking point of any dinner party.
Buon appetito ...