Hazelnut cake with Birbet from Cascina Ca Rossa

A few days ago, I shared an hazelnut cake and a bottle of Birbèt with friends who just dropped by to say hello. Both of the two things I brought home from a recent trip to the Piemonte. What a joy!

The hazelnut cake I bought at the Pasticceria Truffa in Bossalasco, a favourite place of mine for some fine coffee and a piece of cake. The cake was truly delicious, moist yet crumbly and simply packed with hazelnut flavour. Not too sweet either so it didn’t need a full blooded sweet wine to go with it.

The Birbet I bought at the Cascina Ca Rossa when I went to do a tasting with Angelo Ferrio at the estate back in the summer. The tasting was wonderful and all of the wines showed well especially two Roero reds and the white Roero Arneis, but I was particularly drawn to this Birbet. It’s made from the Brachetto dal Grappolo Lungo grape variety and the must has been only partially fermented leaving a good dose of residual sugar. It’s lightly sparkling, a violet/red colour with delicious aromas of red berries, flowers (rose was evident) and faint hints of caramel. In the mouth it was sweet but not overly so and most certainly not cloying, fresh and packed with flavours of raspberry with hints of roses. It was just the thing to serve with the hazelnut cake when well chilled.

Next time I’m there I’ll be certain to buy more of both but for those of you that can’t get there as often, here’s a recipe from Massimo Torrengo at the Trattoria del Bivio in Cerretto Langhe so you can make your own cake. For the wine, well if you live in the U.S. you can buy the wine at either T-Edward Wines in New York or the Vinity Wine Company in California. Unfortunately it’s not available as yet in the U.K. but that may be changing next year!

Massimo’s Hazelnut Cake

Ingredients for 2 x 20cm cakes

200 g butter, melted and left to become tepid, 200 g sugar, 200 g single cream, 200 g flour (00), 300g hazelnut flour, 1 sachet yeast, 3 large eggs.


Preheat the oven to 180 C. Cream the eggs and the sugar together until frothy, add the cream and melted butter and mix well. It’s really important the butter isn’t hot or the eggs will begin to cook. Mix in the flour, hazelnut flour and yeast until you have a smooth mix. Divide between two 20 cm cake tins and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rick the turn out and enjoy!

If you struggle to get hazelnut flour these are two wonderful producers who can sell the wares directly. Cascina Valcrosa and Papa dei Boschi.

I hope you really enjoy this combination and will delight your guests with a little taste of the Piemonte.

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Alba’s Donkey Palio – Il Palio degli Asini – 1st October 2017

Alba’s Donkey Palio – Palio degli Asini – 1st October 2017

This weekend sees the running of the Donkey Palio in Alba. It’s not a joke – or rather it is! Dating back to medieval times, Italy has several Palios, most notably those of Sienna and Asti. However Alba has been banned from the Asti Palio as they kept winning so, in memory of years ago when they held a donkey Palio to poke fun at the Astigiani, they now have this as an annual event, a precursor to the Truffle Fair.

For weeks beforehand the 9 different districts of the city decorate the streets with banners displaying their colours along the roads. Then on the first Sunday of October, the representatives of the various districts, dressed in medieval costume, gather in the cathedral square to draw lots for their assigned beasts of burden. No cheating here, it’s a total lottery for who gets what.

Then in the afternoon, the various “borghi” process through the streets, again in medieval costume with the procession headed by the flag throwers or sbandieri who throw their flags high into the air to unfurl at the highest point. This is synchronised so all the flags unfurl together. A quite breathtaking spectacle to the accompaniment of drums.

Once everyone is assembled in Piazza Medford, the Palio begins with various heats leading to a final run-off. Don’t worry, the donkeys are not ill-treated, no hitting or using sharp objects to make them go faster. They do what they want, the odd one going forward as you may expect but others turning and going backwards, sitting down and refusing to budge. In fact it’s the riders that get the worst of the deal and these days they tend to wear cycle shorts to help stop chaffing from the animals rough coat!

The locals cheer and shout wildly and all in all it’s a really fun time. The Palio itself is a painted cloth and as well as winning this, the winning area of the city has 12 months to poke fun at their rivals. If you go, you’ll need to book seats to watch the Palio but all the fun beforehand is totally free to watch.

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