Alba's Truffle Festival: Part Two
It smells good in Alba. Walking through the town's historical center, the profound and intoxicating aroma of truffles will hit you at every turn.
Apparently, 2013 was a good year for truffles, so the prices were low, relatively speaking. Because they are so rare, white truffles are über expensive. Thank goodness, the more common black truffles are a little more approachable. The perfume of the white truffle is definitely stronger, but honestly, when it comes to flavour, I didn't perceive a huge difference. This was my first time to taste a fresh white truffle, and I was a bit relieved. If the flavour had been as powerful as the aroma, I might have to consider a life of crime to afford these babies.
During the truffle festival, there are tables up and down Via Vittorio Emanuel with fresh truffles for sale, and you will be invited to take a whiff. The truffle will cast it's spell, and you'll fall in love with that ugly lump of fungus, powerless to resist. Step into the central truffle market (Albaqualita) and prepare to be enveloped in a powerful cloud of truffle, it truly is something else. The Paratarfo & Albaqualita houses hundreds of vendors selling fresh truffles, as well as every imaginable truffle product. Lots of wine, grappa, cheese, salami, and food stalls offering a big menu of dishes featuring truffles. Buy a ticket at the door, and you're provided with a wine glass, complete with it's own holster to wear around your neck. There will be wine tastings, and the glass holster will keep your hands free to eat wonderful samples of cheese and salami, this is pure genius.
After visiting the market, wander down the street to Piazza Risorgimento and watch an Italian flag throwing competition. Flag throwers perform at many Italian festivals, accompanied by drums and sometimes horns, the bandieraio juggle multiple flags at a time, using their legs and arms to manipulate the the flags, and send them flying high into the air with incredible control. As part of the Fiera del Tartufo there was a competition between three groups this Sunday afternoon. Quite an amazing spectacle to behold.
But, there is more to Alba than just truffles, there is also Nutella. The sweet smell of chocolate is the dominant note in the morning air, as the Ferrero factory fills the town with the smell of melting chocolate. The 1940's Pietro Ferrero concocted a hazelnut and cocoa paste in response to a chocolate shortage during the war, and his small pastry shop has grown into a big business.
Baci di Dama, or lady's kisses, consist of a dollop of Nutella sandwiched between tiny hazelnut cookies. I ate these by the handful with my cappuccino in Alba, so this is the recipe I decided to share. This version is gluten-free made with rice flour, so it has a very delicate crumb. The recipe is from David Leibovitz's beautiful blog.
Baci di Dama
- 140 grams hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
- 100grams sugar
- 140grams rice flour
- 100grams butter, softened
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Spread the hazelnuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet and toast at 325F for between 8-12 minutes. They should be golden brown, not too dark. It's best to keep a close eye on them. As soon as they become fragrant, they are done. Transfer the nuts to a clean tea towel and let them cool until you can comfortably handle them. Use the tea towel to remove the loose skins of the nuts. Set aside to let completely cool. If you process the nuts before cool, you may end up with more of a hazelnut paste than flour.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, pulse the hazelnuts until very fine. Add the sugar and pulse until well combined, the mixture should resemble coarse sand. Add the rice flour, and pulse until just incorporated.
Transfer the dry ingredients into a bowl and add the butter and vanilla . Using your fingers, work the butter into the nut mixture until smooth and will hold together. You may need to add a few drops of water, up to 1/2 teaspoon. Divide the dough in half and flatten each portion into a disk about an inch thick, wrap in cling film and chill for a couple of hours.
Preheat oven to 325F, and line two cookie sheets with parchment. To form the cookies, you can either roll marble-sized balls between your palms and flatten each ball a little when you place it on the cookie sheet. Or, use a melon baller to scoop out portions. Just scoop a portion and press the dough into the melon baller with your thumb to form uniform little domes. I found that this makes quick work of forming the Baci di Dama. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until just barely browned.
Let them cool completely before removing from the parchment or they will crumble. Once cool, spread half of the cookies flat side with nutella and sandwich with another cookie. These will keep for about a week if stored in an airtight container.