One of my favorite spots in Turin was Caffé Al Bicerin.
Right in the historic Piazza della Consolata, Al Bicerin has the regal, old-school charm of The Plaza, sans stuffiness and with a bit more intimacy. One room houses a small café where walls of wood and mirror are lined with dark red velvet banquettes and marble tabletops. Next door at the Bicerin chocolate shop, the owners sell local and homemade specialties. No pointy-mustached servers behind these counters; it’s Bicerin creed to employ only women.
The café’s namesake is its signature beverage or, technically, the glass it’s served in. Bicchiere is the Italian word for glass, while bicerin is a special glass, like a deep, wide-mouthed wine or ice cream sundae glass, traditionally with a metal handle. Served in bicerin since the nineteenth century, Turin’s liquid remedy of hot chocolate, coffee and cream became synonymous with its glass.
I ordered a bicerin and one piece of Gianduiotto DOC, a heavenly, creamy mix of ground hazelnuts, soft sweet cocoa, sugar and cocoa butter paste. Like many of Italy’s best, the recipe for Gianduiotto was born out of a period of hard times, but was so good it stuck. When Piemonte was under the control of French troops, the English fleets often blocked imports, creating intermittent cocoa shortages. You might assume intermittent shortages mean intermittent cocoa consumption. Not if you’re Italian. Clever chocolate makers found a way to eat well in the face of uncertainty. They limited cocoa consumption by mixing it with ground hazelnuts into the beloved Giandiotto.
The bicerin arrived on it’s own little dish, with a bit of chocolate syrup decorating a perfect head of frothed cream. The server informed me I could mix it into the beverage, but not to mix too much so as to destroy the foam. I heeded her instructions with great care, and dove in. Rich, dark chocolate and a nice hit of espresso flooded my mouth, the strength and sweetness cut perfectly by the filter of cream. The bicerin is probably too much for an everyday drink, but it’s the perfect “something special,” or weekly, treat and was just the comfort I needed from the rainy day outside.