Kisses in a biscuit.
Autumn1852, Savoy Royal Court, Turin
Legend goes that King Vittorio Emanuele II got bored of his usual sumptuous selection and asked for something different. Yes, we all know how that feels - it's Friday, it's takeout night but somehow Chinese seems dull, pizza we always order, Indian we had last week and chippy doesn't cut it so we send someone downstairs to ask our chef for something new.
What does he come up with?
Two hazelnut biscuits bound in a chocolate kiss - 'Baci di Dama'.
Did these sate the king's cravings? We'll never know.
But we do know that the famous Piedmont biscuit was first baked in a bakery, not a palace kitchen, and we do know that it was hazelnut and not almond.
Tortona, Alessandria Province, Piedmont
Pastry chef Augusto Manelli puts together a tasty creation with ingredients of his territory - chocolate and hazelnuts. He names them after a woman's kiss - two perfectly domed biscuits bound by a layer of chocolate.
Whether they're reminiscent of two biscuits kissing or the lips of a kissing lady is not known but they soon become a favourite.
Famous throughout the land as a symbol of the territory, naturally a dispute begins to form as to where the biscuits specifically originated from. You see, they're known in Italy as a regional classic from the town of Tortona but some say that Manelli made them first in Novi Ligure (20 minutes away) and then moved to Tortona where he met 'Pastry Chef Extraordinaires' Vercesi and Zanotti who modified the recipe to almonds instead of hazelnuts in 1810. The Pasticceria Vercesi labelled them as 'Baci Dorati' - Golden Kisses, which went on to win gold medal at the Fiera Internazionale di Milano in 1906. They're sold to this day in elaborate Art Nouveau tins from their pasticceria in Tortona.
Italy's most north-eastern region of Piedmont, Piemonte, is famous for many culinary successes - white truffles from Alba, hazelnuts, gianduia chocolate and Fassona beef, here was another to add to the Piedmont PAT list - Prodotto Agroalimentare Tradizionale, 'Traditional Food Product'.
Disputes aside, the little biscuit loved by Italians as a speciality from Piemonte was subsequently modified by baker Pasquale Balzola in 1919 to create Baci di Alassio - Kisses from Alassio (yet another town, this one on the coast). This version, with egg yolks, honey and cocoa, proved so popular that Balzola had it patented to avoid any confusion and they're still made to his original recipe. His son Rinaldo was known to bake Dad's biscuits as personal pastry-chef to King Vittorio Emanuele III, King of Italy from 1932 to 1938. Imagine that, your own pastry chef!
I love it when a story goes full-circle.
Why so Special?
They're delicate and crumbly but hold their shape in a kiss. The ingredients are simple but the flavour is everything in a classic buttery biscuit with a layer of added chocolate, you can imagine the king with a big bowl of these by his side as a quick pick-me-up for when regal meetings began to get him down.
Italy is famous for so many delicacies but there's something sweet and simple yet perfectly balanced about Piemonte's Baci di Dama. Dipped into coffee or pulled apart, try your hand at making these cuties if you can't find them in the shops.
The Original Hazelnut Recipe
75g blanched hazelnuts
75g plain flour
60g dark chocolate, 70%
1. Heat the oven to 180°C. Toast the hazelnuts on a tray for a couple of minutes checking and turning until lightly golden. Blitz in a blender until fine.
2. Add the sugar, flour and butter into the blender with the hazelnuts and mix until a dough is formed.
3. Tip the dough out onto a floured surface and roll into 2 sausage shapes. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for an hour.
4. Divide the dough into small balls weighing 8g each and lay onto a tray lined with baking paper, refrigerate for another hour.
5. Heat the oven to 150°C and bake the biscuits for 20-25 minutes from cold until the balls have formed dome shapes and are dry. Move them onto a cooling rack.
6. When the biscuits are cool, melt the chocolate in a microwave or in a bain-marie and use a piping bag or small teaspoon to cover the flat end of one biscuit with chocolate and stick a second to it.
7. Carefully place the biscuits in the fridge for 5 minutes to set. Store for up to 3 days.