THE ROYAL SIP OF SAVOY
Piemontese dialect, bicerin (pronounced <bee-chair-EEN>) is a traditional hot drink native to Torino made of three distinct layers espresso, hot chocolate, and whipped milk or cream.
Note on the Savoy: The Savoys are one of Europe's oldest reigning houses, related to almost every royal house of Europe. Succeeding heads of the dynasty rose from Counts to Dukes of Savoy. In 1713, they became Kings of Sicily and assumed the dignity of Majesty. Thereafter, the Sicilian crown was exchanged for that of Sardinia and the Savoy dynasty ruled the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. In 1861, King Victor Emmanuel II led the movement for Italian unification, ceding Savoy to France in the process, and he and his descendants reigned as sovereigns of a united Italy until 1946. Today, Savoy is a province consisting of Savoie and Haute Savoie in Southeastern France, to the west and south of Geneva.
Italy’s great cuisine is often intermingled between the gastronomic rurality and the lavish tastes of the Royal Courts. Bicerin represents the indulgence and the grandiosity of La Belle Epoque.
Bicerin - “small glass”, in Piedmontese - is the quintessence of the Turin of yesteryear than a simple drink made with chocolate, coffee, and milk cream.
Turin's passion for chocolate has a long history. It arrived in the city at the end of the sixteenth century, brought by Caterina, the Spanish wife of Duke Carlo Emanuele I of Savoy, and in a short time, it became a tradition. Towards the middle of the seventeenth century, Turin's city was producing 750 pounds of chocolate per day, mostly exported to Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and France, countries where the fashion for chocolate-based drinks was spreading at that time - still considered the panacea against all ills. Also, in Turin, in 1778, Mr. Doret developed the first automatic machine that allowed you to grind cocoa mass and mix it with vanilla and sugar, creating the forerunner of today's tablet. A few decades later is the combination of cocoa and chopped hazelnuts, the much-celebrated Gianduia paste.
Bicerin is part of the sweet Savoy tradition.
Hot chocolate and coffee, cold milk cream: three simple ingredients, not mixed but poured in layers in the glass (which only has the name of a small glass) create a refreshing and not at all cloying drink, an evolution of the eighteenth-century Bavareisa, the breakfast of the Turinese of time, served accompanied by an assortment of bagnà, biscuits to be dipped including, probably, torcetti, Melia pastes and ladyfingers.
Tradition has it that this delicacy was born in the tiny and homonymous place in Piazza della Consolata, opened at the end of the eighteenth century as an acquacer, renovated in the nineteenth century remained unchanged since then. The eight marble tables are the same from Cavour's times, Alexandre Dumas's father and Silvio Pellico, and then Puccini and Macario, all, it seems, great coffee-goers.
In the nineteenth century, bicerin was so successful that it became the staple in the city's numerous cafes. Then, as often happens, fashions change, and in the 70s, the only place where Bicerin was featured was the Consolata bar.
Still, today, after over forty years, the Belle Époque drink enjoys worldwide fame. On a late summer afternoon, it is effortless to come across tourists of various nationalities who indulge in a secular stop sitting at the tables in the square in front of the Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione. Man does not live on Piedmontese Baroque alone, but on Bicerin as well.
Merenda Reale (Royal Snack) at Caffe’ San Carlo, Turin, since 1822 (C.Sabino)
Bicerin Classic recipe
Yield: 2 servings
1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
2 tablespoons of confectioners sugar
1 cup whole milk
3 oz bittersweet dark chocolate
2 shots of hot espresso
Using a hand mixer, beat the heavy whipping cream with confectioners sugar until it forms stiff peaks, about 1 minute.
In a medium-sized saucepan, warm milk just until it begins to simmer. Add chocolate and whisk together. Continue to whisk over low heat until the mixture begins to thicken a bit, about 1 minute.
In a clear heat-proof glass, create three layers. Pour the hot chocolate on the bottom, followed by a shot of hot espresso. Finally, top with whipped cream and serve warm.
*Note: The key to making a perfect bicerin is to form three distinct layers! In order to avoid "breaking" the first layer of the hot chocolate, pour the espresso over the back of a spoon so that it gently cascades into the glass. Then, carefully top with the whipped cream. Do not stir!
Photo & Content Courtesy of Daniela Acquadro Gastronomia Mediterranea
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