Sweets and traditional confectionery of the Langhe
This cake is typical from the Langhe area, where hazelnut growing is particularly developed.
The hazelnut cake is a famous home-made sweet that once grannies used to make to their
grandchildren’s delight. Also bakers then started to make and sell it.
The hazelnut cake has a round shape and the characteristic flavor of hazelnuts. It is light brown
in color and usually weighs 500 to 700 g.
For making the hazelnut cake you need 750 g butter, 620 g sugar, 300 g eggs, 170 g egg-yolk, 300g hazelnut flour, 250 g starch, 330 g plain flour, and vanilla.
In a large bowl beat the butter and the sugar. Add carefully the eggs and egg-yolks and keep on beating until light and fluffy. Add carefully the starch, flour, hazelnut flower and vanilla.
Pour the mixture (2 cm thick) into a greased cake tin. Bake the cake and when it is ready dredge it with icing sugar or, before baking the cake, garnish its surface with some hazelnuts and dredge it with sugar.
Historically the rum pralines were first produced in Dronero at the end of the 19th century by a confectioner who called them “Droneresi al rhum”. These chocolates met with huge success to such an extent that also other confectioners began to produce a similar product and, following the example of the first producer, they used to name such chocolates after the name of the town in which they were produced. Nowadays the “Cuneesi” are the most famous rum pralines; they are known not only in Piedmont but also all over Italy.
They have preserved their original traits: a small amount of rum flavoured cream into a thin shell of meringue coated with plain chocolate. They are round, dark brown in colour and weigh 15-20 g.
Sometimes chocolates like “Cuneesi”, “Monregalesi”, “Albesi” etc. are referred to by the generic term “pralines”.
Some experts attribute the art of making pralines to the master chocolate makers of Turin, who were the first all over Europe to process chocolate on the model of French “mignon” pastries. Tradition has it that the first praline was made by chance by a confectioner’s boy who tried to conceal an imperfect caramel coating on almonds by covering them with a thin film of plain chocolate. The result later went down in history with the name “pralines”.
Salame del Papa (Pope’s roll)
Another local speciality is the so-called “Salame del Papa” (i.e. “Pope’s roll”) or “mattone” (i.e.
brick). It is not too difficult to prepare: soften 200g of butter, add 200g of sweetened cocoa powder,
100 g of dark cocoa powder, 200 g of crushed crispy biscuits, one egg, one egg-yolk, 200 g of
roasted and minced hazelnuts, and 2 teaspoons of orange liqueur. Shape a roll from the resulting
mixture, wrap it into greaseproof paper and let it stand for 12 hours in the fridge. This sweet is best
served at room temperature, sliced into 1 cm thick pieces, and accompanied by dry Marsala.
Paste di meliga (maize biscuits)
“Paste di meliga” are delicious maize biscuits, traditionally produced in the valleys of the province
of Cuneo as well as in many other parts of Piedmont. “Meliga” means maize. These biscuits weigh
about 10-12 g each, are golden in color and variously shaped depending on local tradition.They
are sweet and crisp.
For making maize biscuits you need: 1 kg wheat flour, 500 g corn meal, 1 kg butter, 700 g sugar, 5
eggs, 10 g salt, grated lemon rind and one sachet of yeast. Beat the butter together with the sugar,
eggs, salt and the grated lemon rind. Sieve the flour and yeast.
Knead the mixture and let it stand for about 10 minutes in a cool place. Put the mixture into an icing syringe with a star-shaped nozzle and make some rings of about 5 cm in outer diameter. Bake the biscuits at a moderate temperature.
In Barge and the surrounding area these biscuits are called “Batiaje”, a word coming from the expression “Fè batiè” that in the local dialect means to celebrate a future baby.
Brût e Bon
“Brût e Bon” _ also called “Brût ma Bon” or, in Italian, “Brutti e/ma Buoni” (i.e. “ugly and/yet good”) _ are crunchy pastries made of roasted almonds and/or hazelnuts, sugar, egg white and vanilla. The ingredients may vary slightly depending on the zone; you can even find cinnamon spiced or chocolate-coated “Brût e Bon”.
Here is the recipe for “Brût e Bon”: beat the egg white together with the sugar; crush the hazelnuts and/or almonds and add them to the mixture. Add some vanilla too and cook the mixture in a pan on a low flame while stirring it until it boils.
Put small spoonfuls of such mixture on a sheet of parchment paper and bake them about 20 minutes at 160 °C. These pastries keep a few months provided they are at a temperature below 20°C.
Bunèt / Bonèt
Many hypotheses have been formulated about the word “Bonèt”. In the local dialect it means “hat” or
“cap” and, according to the Piedmontese/Italian dictionary by Vittorio Sant’Albino (published in 1859),
this sweet was named Bonèt after the Piedmontese word for the copper and aluminum pudding mold
used to cook it. Such mold is shaped like a chef’s hat (“bonet’d cusina” in Piedmontese). The most
curious and proven hypothesis in the Langhe says this sweet is called Bònet because it is the crowing of
a meal, just like the hat is the finishing touch one wears before leaving home.
Here is the recipe for Bonèt. Ingredients: 4 eggs, 6 tablespoons of sugar, 500 ml milk, 50 g crushed
macaroons, 2 tablespoons of dark cocoa powder, 2 tablespoons of rum. Beat the eggs in a bowl then add 4 tablespoons of sugar, the cocoa, the macaroons, the rum and milk. Mix the ingredients with a whisk. Prepare a caramel by heating 2 tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan and, when the sugar gets a golden brown color, sprinkle a little water so as to make the sugar stringy and stir it while cooking on a high flame. Pour the caramel into a warm pudding mould and make sure all the surface of the mold is covered with caramel. When the caramel gets cold pour the mixture into the mold and bake it in a bain-marie for about 45 minutes at 180 °C. When the mixture has cooled down turn it upside down on a serving dish and keep it in the fridge for about 2 or 3 hours.
This recipe may change according to the zone; in some parts of Piedmont they may add “Tonda Gentile delle Langhe” hazelnuts, coffee, rum, or cognac.
Panna cotta (cooked cream)
“Panna Cotta” is a traditional dessert of Piedmont and is a sort of fine white pudding covered with
caramel. Tradition has it that Panna Cotta was born in the Langhe, where it was first made by a
Hungarian lady at the beginning of the 20th century. It has always been considered a cold desert
typical of Piedmont.
Here is the recipe for Panna Cotta. Ingredients: 500 ml double cream, a third of a liter whole milk, 200 g
icing sugar, 3 gelatin leaves, one small glass of rum, half a glass of Marsala. Heat the milk in a saucepan and melt the gelatin. At the same time heat the cream and sugar into another saucepan and bring nearly to the boil while stirring.
Blend the two mixtures and add the rum and Marsala. Put some caramel in a rectangular pudding mold and add the resulting mixture. Cool it down in the fridge for at least three hours.
Zabaione is a sweet typical of Piedmont and its name (sambajon) comes from St John of Baylon,
the patron saint of the confectioners of Turin; in fact zabaione was created in honor of such saint
during the 17th century. It is not difficult to prepare: beat some yolks and sugar until you get a
smooth mixture, then add Moscato or Barolo Chinato (or Marsala, Porto, Madera) and cook on a
gentle heat or in a bain-marie. Keep on stirring so as to avoid zabaione curdles. When the mixture is
smooth and frothy pour it into some bowls. It can be eaten both warm and cold.
The “cognà” is a sweet sauce and is as old as the Langhe. It enhances the most traditional flavours of
the local cuisine and goes well with cheese and boiled meat. The traditional recipe requires the must
obtained from pressing 2 kg of Dolcetto grapes. Other ingredients are: 1 kg “martine” pear variety
(which are small and very sweet-smelling), 2 rennets, 2 quinces, 250 g figs, 300 g roasted and ground
hazelnuts, a fistful of orange and lemon peel, 5 cloves, a pinch of cinnamon. Mix all the ingredients
and boil the mixture slowly for several hours (usually 4 or 5 hours) until it gets a thick syrupy texture.
The Dolcetto grapes give the “cognà” a wonderful dark garnet red color. The “cognà” can be kept
in jars or after the grannies’ manner in earthenware pots covered with parchment paper.