Simplicity is not my strong point. In fact, I often complicate matters for myself, whether it’s at work, at home and in the kitchen. Long, multi-step preparations. Laborious cookery techniques. Trying to procure unusual and/or obscure ingredients. When I have the means, time and space available, wonderful things can be made. Sometimes though, the best foods are the simplest. A recent toddler-free (thank you nonna and nonno for babysitting!) morning visit to Cherasco, a medieval hilltop town in Piedmont’s Langhe region, reminded me of this.
TP and I were walking briskly along the portico-lined footpath of the town’s main street. There was a damp chill in the air so we tried to keep moving as quickly as possible. Still, I managed to squeeze in admiring glances at the doors and windows of the palazzi along the cobblestoned street as we raced by.
‘I’m sorry but can we stop for a moment so I can change my camera lens?’ I asked TP. My fish-eye lens wouldn’t capture close ups of the finestre and porte I had fallen in love with.
‘Si, d’accordo’, TP sighed, placing his woollen-gloved hands in his coat pockets. Clearly determined to protect himself from the dreaded umidità or dampness, he began marching on the spot while I made my photographic pit stop.
I took off my gloves, placed them in my pockets and rummaged through my camera bag. My bare hands achingly longed for the tattered lining of my navy blue leather gloves. Loose-fitting guanti, however, don’t lend themselves well to fiddling with exposure dials and aperture settings. I was screwing on my 28-80mm lens when TP suddenly stopped muttering about the cold. He was excited now and pointed out a sign about 20 metres ahead of us. Baci di Cherasco, it said.
Once my lens was firmly fitted onto my camera body, we made our way to the sign and the shopfront of Pasticceria Barbero underneath it. This was the place, where, in 1881, the confectioner Marco Barbero is said to have invented the dark chocolate and hazelnut ‘kisses’ the town is famous for. Local legend has it that after making a batch of torrone (nougat), Barbero had a lot of roasted hazelnut chunks leftover. On a whim, he dipped these in some dark chocolate. The result: simple yet delectably addictive chocolate and hazelnut nuggets. I’m currently averaging about five of them with my afternoon coffee!
Back in Turin, I looked up all the recipes I could find for chocolate and hazelnut baci. I was very tempted by a baci recipe which called for hazelnuts, cocoa and cocoa butter. Unless you’re professional chocolate maker though, cocoa butter is not easy to find. So, in the name of simplifying home cooking, I made these scrumptious smooches with an ingredient readily available at the local supermarket – tablets of dark chocolate.
Ingredients (makes about 22-25 baci)
- 300 g dark chocolate, chopped
- 150 g hazelnuts, roasted, peeled and roughly crushed
- Put chopped chocolate in a stainless steel bowl and place it over a pot of simmering water.
- Stir until the chocolate melts and is nice and smooth. Turn off heat and remove stainless steel bowl from pot.
- Add crushed hazelnuts to melted chocolate and stir until well combined.
- With the aid of two teaspoons, carefully remove a spoonful of the mixture from the bowl onto a lined tray. To prevent the chocolate and hazelnut from spreading too widely, form a barrier with the spoons on opposite sides of the bacio for several seconds. The bacio should be about 1.5 to 2cm in diameter and approximately 1 cm in height.(Alternatively, you could always use mini cup-cake holders!)
- Repeat procedure with remaining chocolate and hazelnut mixture.
- Place tray with baci in the refrigerator overnight.
- Remove baci from refrigerator and store in a lined, tightly sealed container. Best consumed within a month of making them.
And, if you’d rather leave the baci-making to the professionals, here’s where you can find Pasticceria Barbero:
Via Vittorio Emmanuele II, 74
12062 Cherasco, CN
Tel. +39 (0)172 488373