Turin (Torino in Italian) is an interesting and often overlooked city in the Piedmont (Piemonte in Italian) region of Italy. It is in the northwest section of the region between the Po River and the foothills of the Alps. The city is famous for the Shroud of Turin, Fiat auto plants, Baroque cafes and architecture and its arcaded shopping promenades and museums. Turin hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics because the nearby mountains and valleys are a huge attraction for winter sports. This hilly region bordering France and Switzerland is, also, ideal for dry farming grapes which are deep-rooted enough to withstand periods of dry weather.

The Piedmont region has some of the best food in Italy. Over 160 types of cheese and famous wines, like Barolo and Barbaresco, come from here, as do truffles, the very expensive mushroom. Turin has some outstanding pastries, especially chocolate ones. Chocolate for eating, as we know it today, (bars and pieces) originated in Turin. The chocolate-hazelnut sauce, gianduja, is a specialty of Turin. 

Lights of Turin

Turin derives its name from the Celtic word tau, meaning mountain, and was founded almost 2400 years ago by a Celtic tribe, the Taurini. The Taurini conquered much of France and part of Spain before heading into what is known today as Italy. In Italian torino means “little bull”. The bull is still part of the city standard (flag) to this day.

After the fall of the  Roman Empire, Turin, which was always prized for its fertile land and access to the Po River, was conquered by various barbarian tribes including the Goths, Lombards and Franks, who established the city as an earldom in the 8th century A.D.

However, when the Savoy family dynasty conquered the city in the year 1280, the city would finally begin its rise to prominence. The history of Turin for the next 600 years is tied to that of the House of Savoy. The Savoys are also credited with bringing art, culture and architecture to Turin. The Savoys certainly spared no expense to make Turin beautiful.  However, despite their best efforts to ‘Italianize’ the city, Turin’s layout is often compared to Paris more than any other Italian city.

The Savoys would reign over Italy until Benito Mussolini’s Fascists took over the country at the beginning of the 20th. century. By this time, Turin had turned its attention to industry and is, still, one of the world’s greatest automobile centers.

Candy Shop in Turin

Turin has been producing chocolate for over three centuries. The origins of the city’s chocolate-making art can be traced back to the year 1678, when Madame Reale, who was then the Queen of the Savoy state, granted the first ever “license” to Turinese chocolate maker Giò Antonio Ari to make chocolate. Thus began the city’s closest relationship with chocolate, which continues until this day. The chocolate varieties created by Turinese chocolatiers are truly special and include several specialties, like the traditional Gianduiotto, which is shaped like an upturned boat and crafted out of sugar, cocoa and hazelnut paste; the Baci di Cherasco (Cherasco Kisses) which are made with dark chocolate and hazelnuts; the Alpino which contains a liqueur cream and is named after the hat worn by the Italian military regiments; and the Bicerin, which is a truly decadent layered hot chocolate coffee drink.

Gianduia – chocolate and hazelnut candy

The chocolate most associated with Turin is gianduia. However, long before they started putting hazelnuts in chocolate, Turin was a major player in the world of European chocolate. Turin chocolatiers began selling chocolate in 1678, almost 200 years before the first Gianduia candy bar entered the chocolate scene in Turin. Gianduia, a blend of milk chocolate and ground hazelnuts, was invented due to the high cacao prices and problems with supply. In order to extend their supply of cacao, chocolatiers added hazelnuts that were, and still are, in abundance from the local Langhe area. One of the most popular combinations of chocolate and hazelnuts, worldwide, is Nutella. Ferrero-Rocher, located in the nearby city of Alba, began producing the popular spread in 1945. First is was called Giandujot, then Supercrema, then Cremalba. In 1964 it became Nutella.

Almost every chocolatier and sweet shop in Turin has a local version of the spread, using just as many variations as its numerous names. These artisanal versions are more likely to actually use Piedmont hazelnuts and less likely to have palm oil or preservatives that come with the mass produced spread in the rest of the world.

Here are just a few types of chocolate candies made in Turin:

Nocciolati – Nocciolati are gianduia chocolate bars with whole roasted hazelnuts throughout. These, along with other chocolate variations, decorate many chocolate storefront windows in Turin. They are sold by weight, usually the etto (100 grams). Nocciolato fondente is a dark chocolate bar with hazelnuts; nocciolato latte is milk chocolate with hazelnuts, and nocciolato bianco is white chocolate. Little bite-size versions are nocciolatini.

Cremino – In 1911 to launch its Fiat 4, the Turin-based auto manufacturer held a contest for Italian chocolatiers to create a chocolate in honor of the new car. “Il Cremino” made by Aldo Majani in Bologna won. For many years it was known as the Cremino Fiat. A square shape, it is layers of chocolate, initially four layers, but now made with three-layer. Two of the layers are gianduia chocolate. The middle layer varies in flavor and can be hazelnut cream, dark chocolate or coffee cream, to name just a few.

Tris di Nocciole – A classic in chocolate shops in Turin, they are simply three roasted hazelnuts covered in chocolate. You can find them in all three chocolate variations; dark, milk and white.

Tartufi (truffles) – Although they are a specialty of Turin, you can find truffles all over the world. Named after the expensive fungus they resemble, these balls of ganache, sometimes with a little liquor added to the ganache, are traditionally rolled in cocoa powder.

Rochers – Ferrero-Rocher (the company that also makes Nutella) introduced these “rocks” to the world in 1982. Many chocolatiers in the city make them. If you love chocolate and hazelnuts, this is a dream combination. Generally, they start with a chocolate-covered hazelnut at the center; gianduia cream encases it. A very thin wafer is wrapped around the gianduia cream, separating it from the final coating of milk chocolate and chopped hazelnuts.

Healthy Chocolate Inspired Recipes From Turin, Italy

Italian Mocha (Bicerin)

Bicerin derives from an older drink, called Bavaresia, which was popular in the XVII century; unlike bicerin, it was stirred. Bicerin made its appearance in the 1840s, and enjoying a bicerin at the caffé in the morning soon became a ritual in Turin. Bicerin, a sinful drink, is prepared from coffee, cocoa, and whipped cream. A little goes a long way — the word bicerin means little glass — and, if you like it, you’ll be joining august company: Alexandre Dumas, Italo Calvino, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso were all bicerin fans. The caffés of Turin keep their versions secret, but you might try it with this recipe, if you can afford the calories, if not use the second recipe, which is a healthy, tasty adaption:

Ingredients for Hot Chocolate

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup good quality semisweet chocolate, chopped 
  • 1-2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 cups very strong coffee
  • 1 tablespoon powdered coffee creamer (optional)

Directions

1 Heat the milk to boiling.

2 Reduce heat and whisk in chocolate and sugar.

3 Heat mixture to boiling while stirring continuously.

4 Remove from heat and whisk in coffee and creamer (if using, it thickens the drink a bit).

5 Add topping, see below

Ingredients for Bicerin Topping

  • 1 part freshly made espresso
  • 1 part freshly made hot chocolate, see above
  • 1 part heavy cream

Directions:

Place a cocktail shaker in the freezer until well chilled, at least 10 minutes. Fill a large heatproof glass with very hot tap water and set aside.

To serve: empty glass and dry. Layer ingredients in the glass by placing shot of espresso in the bottom and then, while slightly tilting the glass, slowly pouring in hot chocolate.

Remove shaker from freezer, add cream, and shake vigorously until frothy, at least 20 times. Spoon shaken cream on top of hot chocolate and serve immediately.

Tip: For an alcoholic bicerin, add 1 part coffee-flavored liqueur to the hot chocolate before layering it.

Cioccolata Calda (Hot Chocolate Italian-Style) – Healthy Version                                                                                        

Servings: 2

Ingredients:                                                                                                                                                          

  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups milk  plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons frozen fat-free, whipped topping, thawed

Directions:

1. Mix the cocoa powder and sugar together in a small saucepan. Stir the 1  1/2 cups milk into the saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Place over low heat; slowly bring the mixture to a low simmer.

2. Whisk the 2 tablespoons of milk together with the cornstarch in a small cup; slowly whisk the cornstarch slurry into the cocoa mixture. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the hot chocolate reaches a pudding-like thickness, 2 to 3 minutes. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon of whipped topping.

Chocolate Fondue

Serves: 4

 Ingredients:                                                                                                                                                               

  • 2 pounds bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Pound cake, toasted and diced for dipping
  • Assorted fruit, for dipping

Directions:

In a large microwavable bowl, combine chocolate and butter. Microwave on medium (50 percent power) 2 minutes; whisk until smooth.

Meanwhile in a small saucepan, heat water, milk, and honey over medium-high heat just until small bubbles appear around edge of pan. Whisk milk mixture into chocolate mixture until smooth. Serve fondue with cake and fruit.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Mousse

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sugar (or 2 tablespoons sugar alternative, such as Truvia)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
  • 1/4 cup Frangelico (hazelnut-flavored liqueur)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 cups frozen fat-free whipped topping, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts, toasted

 Directions:

Combine the sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, salt, and eggs in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk.

Heat milk over medium-high heat in a small, heavy saucepan until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil). Gradually add hot milk to sugar mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk.

Place the milk mixture back in the saucepan and cook over medium heat until very thick and bubbly (about 5 minutes), stirring constantly.

Spoon mixture into a medium bowl, and add liqueur, vanilla, and chocolate, stirring until chocolate melts.

Place bowl in a large ice-filled bowl for 15 minutes or until mixture is cool, stirring occasionally.

Remove bowl from ice. Gently fold in one-third of the whipped topping. Fold in remaining topping. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. Sprinkle with hazelnuts.

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: about 2/3 cup mousse and 1 teaspoon hazelnuts)

Chocolate Chip Biscotti                                                                                                        

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons flaxseed
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large egg whites and 1 large egg or 3/4 cups egg substitute
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips (such as Hershey’s)
  • 3/4 cup unsalted sliced almonds

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, flaxseed, soda, and salt in a bowl, stirring with a whisk. Set aside.

Combine sugars, egg in an electric mixer bowl; beat at high speed for 2 minutes. Add vanilla; mix well.  Add flour mixture to egg mixture; stir on low speed until combined. Fold in chocolate and almonds with a spatula.

Turn dough out onto a floured board and divide dough into 3 equal portions. (I use a scale to weigh the dough.) Roll each portion into a 6-inch-long roll. Arrange the roll, 3 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Shape each into a 6 by 1-inch log. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until firm. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

3. Remove rolls from the baking sheet; cool 20 minutes on a wire rack. Cut rolls diagonally into 30 (1/2-inch) slices. Return slices, cut sides down, to the  baking sheet. Reduce oven temperature to 325°; bake 10 minutes. Turn cookies over; bake 10 minutes (cookies will be slightly soft in center but will harden as they cool). Remove from baking sheet and cool on wire rack.

Yield: 2 1/2 dozen (serving size: 1 biscotti)

Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup amaretti or chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (See brands below.)
  • 2 tablespoons butter or trans-free margarine, melted, such as Smart Balance
  • 2/3 cups sugar (or 1/3 cup sugar alternative for baking)
  • 3 cups bittersweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 2 packages (8 ounces each) fat-free cream cheese
  • 1 cup light sour cream
  • 3 eggs or 3/4 cups egg substitute
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • 2 tablespoons fat free half-and-half
  • 1 cups fresh raspberries + 1 tablespoon sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9″ springform pan with cooking spray and set aside.

2. Combine the cookie crumbs and margarine in a bowl and mix together. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan and refrigerate until ready to use.

3. Melt 2 cups of the chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler, taking care to keep the water from touching the bottom of the pan containing the chips. Remove from the heat and set aside.

4. Meanwhile, beat together the cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, and remaining 2/3 cup sugar or 1/3 cup sugar alternative with an electric mixer until smooth. Slowly beat in the flour, almond extract, and coffee granules. Add the melted chocolate and beat on high speed until well incorporated.

5. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and run a knife or thin metal spatula around the edge of the sides to loosen the sides but do not remove the cake from the pan. Place pan on a rack and let cool for 45 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and chill in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight.

6. When the cake is chilled, melt the remaining 1 cup chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler and stir in the half-and-half. Cool slightly and pour onto the top of the cake. Spread with a spatula to the edge so that some of the chocolate runs down the side of the cake. Chill until ready to serve.

Toss the raspberries with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Serve with cake.

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