Bonet (pronounced bunèt) is a typical dessert of the Langhe, a historic region of Piedmont, located between the provinces of Cuneo and Asti. It belongs to the family of puddings and crème caramel and has very ancient origins; in fact, we find some stories that tell of the presence of this dessert during noble banquets in the thirteenth century.
There are different schools of thought on the origin of the name of this dessert. Bonet in Piedmontese means “hat,” intended as a nightcap, and this has given rise to two hypotheses. The first claims that bonét ëd cusin-a, or “chef’s hat,” was the name given to the hat-shaped mold in which the dessert is prepared. The second hypothesis, and perhaps also the truest, claims that since this dessert was served as the conclusion of a lavish meal, it represented the gesture of putting on a hat (bonet) as the last garment before leaving the house.
There are two versions of this dessert. A white one, called alla Monferrina, is older and less known, and does not contain cocoa but only milk, sugar, eggs, and amaretti. The other, called sabauda, came later when new ingredients from South America, such as cocoa and rum, came to Italy and has become very famous.
The spread of this recipe in Piedmont is due to the large presence of almond and hazelnut groves in the region. These groves also heralded the birth of the famous amaretto cookie, a pastry made with sweet and bitter almonds, probably invented by the Arabs and widespread throughout the Mediterranean thanks to its long shelf life.
Amaretti are made up of sweet and bitter almonds, sugar, and egg whites. The soft interior of the apricot kernel, called armelline, can also be added to give the cookie its typical bitter taste. Amaretti are among the main ingredients of bonet, and in this dessert they are really protagonists.
Bonet was prepared by the women of the house on Saturday afternoon, after the bread had been baked in the wood-burning oven. As soon as the oven was done, when the oven was still at the proper temperature, the women beat eggs cold together with sugar, then added cocoa, milk, crumbled amaretti, and rum.
They then poured the sugar into the mold and caramelized it while rotating the mold so that it could adhere to the entire surface; finally they poured the mixture of beaten eggs into the mold and baked everything in a bain-marie, or water bath. No more wood was added to the oven, because the cooking had to be delicate and slow, and the bonet was judged ready when it appeared thickened. Once chilled, the dessert was served during Sunday lunch.
Even today in the restaurants of Piedmont, bonet is a dessert that is always present on the menu, not only in its original form, but also with some variations. It is possible to find it made with round Langhe hazelnut, or with espresso instead of rum, or using lemon zest or vanilla extract to flavor the milk added to the mixture.
In fact, like with any traditional recipe, each family has its own personal recipe, which it guards, preserves, and passes on through the generations.
The procedure is, however, that of a crème caramel cooked in a bain-marie.
The secret that should not be underestimated for a perfect bonet is that the water in the bain-marie must never boil, so as not to make the mixture harden too much or have bubbles inside. If you follow this little trick, the bonet will be soft and smooth.
Bonet’s enveloping sweetness teams up just right with one of Italy’s most notable sparkling dessert wines, Piedmont’s Moscato d’Asti. Fresh and very aromatic, its aromas recall yellow flowers and fruits like apple and pear. Keen to try an unexpected alternative? Try bonet with a warm wine, such as a Tuscan Vin Santo.