This Imperial Milk is a family recipe and originates from what Italians traditionally call “Portuguese Milk” or what is more internationally known as “crème caramel”. It goes by different names and is very common in all Western cuisines.
The ingredients are simple: eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla combined in a pleasant dessert, which is given a unique touch thanks to the addition of finely ground almonds and Amaretto cookies. This finishing touch was conferred by my great-grandmother who used a coal burning range. She had to perfectly regulate the coal inside the oven and cooked the Imperial Milk by placing burning embers on the mould’s metal lid.
This dessert was extremely popular in European restaurants during the last decades of the twentieth century, probably due to the convenience for restauranteurs, who could prepare it quite in advance and to keep it until clients requested it.
The basic ingredients of this recipe bring back the use of eggs and milk, combined to make use of what were considered medicinal virtues of eggs since ancient times. During the Middle Ages these ingredients were appreciated because of the need to eat meatless alternatives during fasting periods, especially during Lent. Nevertheless, in Spanish-speaking countries, the attention is focused on the eggs, “flan de huevo” or more simply “flan”, and not on the milk.
Bring the milk and vanilla to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and set aside to cool down.
Spread the almonds onto a parchment lined baking pan and toast in a pre-heated 350 F (180 C) oven for 10 minutes – until they become lightly browned. Let them cool.
Combine the ingredients for the caramel directly into a 24cm diameter mould. Wearing oven mitts, place the mould over low heat and dissolve the sugar in it. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil without stirring until the mixture turns deep golden brown, swirling the pan occasionally. Carefully tilt the mould to coat its bottom (not sides) with caramel.
Place the almonds, Amaretto cookies and 1 tbsp of sugar in a food processor and pulse until the mixture turns into a very fine powder.
With an electric mixer, whisk the eggs with the rest of the sugar until pale yellow. Add the powdered almonds and Amaretto cookie mixture, and the milk through a sieve. Pour the custard in the mould you have prepared.
Place the mould in a baking pan and add enough hot water so it comes up halfway the mould.
Bake at 320 F (160 C) for 1 hour and grill for 5 minutes at 400 F (200 C).
Generally, in the case of traditional Portuguese Milk, the mould is covered with a lid in order to keep the top of the custard soft. In this case however, the almonds and cookies must rise to the top while it bakes to form a crispy crust.
Run a small sharp knife around edge of the custard to loosen it. Turn the custard onto plate and serve.