03 December 2015

AUNTIE PASTA: Chocolate Delights

CHIAVARI, Italy – Living in a small town has a lot of advantages, but every now and again I feel the need for a big city fix. For all the years I’ve lived here, my favorite Italian “city fix” city has been Turin, and it still is. 
Beautiful Turin
With 12 miles of porticos to stroll under, exceptional architecture to marvel at, great book stores to get lost in and some of the most beautiful bars and café’s in the world where you can sit and relax with one of the city’s most famous creations – a bicerin - keeps me going back year after year.

Bicerin is a traditional hot drink that was created in Turin. It is made from espresso, hot chocolate, and cream, and served layered in a small rounded glass – a bicerin. This cold weather drink is not to be stirred, just slowly sipped, drawing the coffee and chocolate layers through the cream. 
Heaven in a Glass - Bicerin
The word bicerin is a diminutive of biccierino, which is Piedmontese dialect for   “glass". There are always lots of conflicting stories about the origin of things, especially food related things, but there is a lot of evidence that the bicerin was created by the ladies of the Caffe’ al Bicerin in piazza della Consolata.

Caffe Al Bicerin, which is one of Turin’s historic coffeehouses, was just a hole in the wall bar when it was founded in 1763. But then it was renovated and what you see today is the result of that renovation. It is a unique operation as it has been owned and run by women from the beginning. This may not seem like such a big deal now, but in those days the cafés were the domain of men and there were few places where women felt welcomed and comfortable. Al Bicerin was one of those places.  

Serves 2

⅓ cup high-quality cocoa powder, dark unsweetened chocolate
⅔ cup chilled heavy cream
Ground espresso (enough for 2 long shots, about 1/3 cup each)

At least 15 minutes before making bicerin, place stainless steel cocktail shaker or a freezer proof jar in the freezer. You will use the shaker or jar to bring the cream that tops the bicerin to the right consistency.

Fill 2 water goblets or Irish coffee mugs with hot water, to warm them up.

In small saucepan combine chocolate with about 2/3 cup water, and set over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until chocolate coats spoon, about 10 minutes. Add sugar to taste. Shut off heat.

Empty the glasses and wipe dry. Remove shaker or jar from freezer, add heavy cream and shake vigorously for 1 minute. Make espresso. To each glass or mug add a shot of espresso, then 1/3 cup chocolate, and finally carefully spoon 1/3 cup cream over top. Serve immediately

Note: The higher the percentage of cocoa - 75-85% - the better the flavor.
Caffe' al Bicerin, Turin, Italy

Today, almost all the bars and cafes in Turin – and Piedmont – serve bicerin during the cold winter months, but the prices vary from café to café.  Here is a list of some of the historic café’s in Turin and what they were charging – the last time I looked

Caffè Torino, piazza San Carlo 204 (7.50 €)
Gelateria Pepino, piazza Carignano 8 (6.00 €)
Cioccolateria Gobino, via Lagrange 1 (5.00 €)
Caffè Pasticceria Stratta, piazza San Carlo 191 (4.50 €)
Caffè Mulassano, piazza Castello 15 (5.00 €)
Caffe Al Bicerin, piazza della Consolata, 5 (5.00 €)

In some of the shops and supermarkets you might find bottles of a drink called Bicerin, but it’s not the same thing. The bottled bicerin is a cream of Gianduia based liquor, Gianduia being the foil wrapped chocolate and hazelnut nuggets that are sold all over town. The bottled bicerin is good, but it’s a completely different product.


If you don’t want to tackle bicerin, how about trying some Italian hot chocolate. It’s thick, creamy, decadent and very rich, and you will never look at hot chocolate the same way again. 
 Hot Chocolate Italian Style
It doesn’t take long to make, about five minutes, and with only 116 calories per serving, why resist?


(Makes 4 servings)

1 cup whole milk, separated in 3/4 cup and 1/4 cup
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 1/2 ounces high quality dark chocolate 70%, finely chopped
About a cup of whipped cream, optional for the garnish on top

Combine the 3/4 cup milk, cream and sugar in a saucepan and heat until it starts to bubble around the edges. While the milk mixture is heating, whisk together the 1/4 milk and the cornstarch until it is smooth. Once the milk mixture starts bubbling around the edges, add the milk and cornstarch mixture to it and whisk until it’s heated through. Add the chocolate and whisk together until it’s smooth, hot and thick enough to coat a spoon. Pour into mugs and, if you want, you can top it with a dollop of whipped cream. 

Note: The higher the percentage of cocoa - 75-85% - the better the flavor.  

For more about Turin and its love affair with chocolate

Gentle Reminder: This Italian Life – People and Places is now available on Amazon.

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