Bicerin

Once fall arrives, I live in anticipation of the holiday season - that fairy tale world of twinkling lights, cozy family time, gift-giving, and gatherings over a good meal.  Sweets and treats are surely part of that image and regardless of how close reality is to fantasy when it comes to the holidays, I find myself impatient, with fingers tapping, wondering when I can start baking Christmas cookies already!  
Cookies are coming...but aside from cookies (and lots of chocolates - this is when I stock up on some extra special chocolates), I also think of warm indulgent drinks to sip and savor.  I tried Barcelona hot chocolate a couple of winters ago and it became our Christmas morning drink.  I recently auditioned another contender with this Bicerin (pronounced: bee-chair-EEN), a coffee and chocolate drink native to Turin (Torino), Italy.

Torino is a part of the Piedmont region in Northern Italy.  When I think Piedmont, I think hazelnuts and given my love of all things chocolate-and-hazelnuts, I always pay attention to anything associated with Piedmont.  Well, this drink, Bicerin, which translates into "small glass" in Piedmontese (for how the drink was originally served), has been around since the 18th century when it was served at the cafe, Al Bicerin.  But forget the small glass; after trying it, I want as big a glass as I can get my hands on!  
This delicious drink consists of three parts: a base layer of rich hot chocolate, followed by strong coffee or espresso, topped with a final layer of lightly whipped cream.  It's rich and absolutely delicious for any fan of the coffee and chocolate combination.  

I have been wanting to try David Lebovitz's recipe for Bicerin for a long time and I am very happy I finally have.  Even dialing down the amount of chocolate I used for the base layer and using my regular drip coffee, the drink turned out sensational.  It was a great accompaniment to breakfast on a cold morning last weekend.
The nice thing about making things at home is you can customize it to your liking.  Maybe you prefer your drink with a little less hot chocolate and a bit more coffee, or the reverse.  Use espresso instead of strong coffee if you have it.  And instead of whipped cream, you could top it with milk foam for a lighter version.  I prefer mine with plenty of rich chocolate flavor and the whipped cream was a wonderful treat.  It's great to see the layers in the drink (if you look closely) but I like giving it a stir before taking a good sip and enjoying that wonderfully robust chocolate and coffee combination.  It will warm and cheer you right up!



Maryland fudge cake

I love when I see something tasty yet simple that has me hopping into the kitchen for a little baking therapy.  A couple of days ago, I saw this recipe for a Maryland fudge cake at Food52 that immediately tempted me.  I was lured by the simple, uncomplicated process and, frankly, the plain fact that I'd end up with a fudge cake at the end of it all.  I mean, how bad can that be?  The answer is, not bad at all.
I made a small 6-inch version of the cake - more like a torte, which I always think of as relatively thin, single-layer cakes, usually made with nuts.  This cake/torte is a lot like a brownie.  It puffs as it bakes and you end up with a crackly top and a crust, especially along the edges, which are almost hard in a wonderfully dense and chewy kind of way.  At its core, it is meltingly moist and sweet.  Offsetting the sweetness, studs of toasted walnuts give the cake a ton of texture and flavor.  
This cake is easy to make, a great little simple after-dinner treat to slice up and share.  I opted out of the thin layer of chocolate frosting you can make and top this cake with.  I think it's sweet and moist enough already without it.  The cake tastes great plain, also good with a little whipped cream on the side.  Ultimately though, I recommend it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. 
It's so interesting to learn about regional cooking, as in the case of this Maryland fudge cake, a recipe found in a publication from the 1960's.  Also interestingly enough, I had recently seen a show featuring Smith Island Cake (Smith Island being off the mainland coast of Maryland; the cake is considered the "official" dessert of the state of Maryland).  I was tempted by it but Smith Island Cake is a far more complicated affair - featuring as many as 15 thin layers of cake alternating with thin layers of fudge!  You can probably imagine why I choose to dive into this far simpler fudge cake for the time being.  


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