The poet Giosuè Carducci described the town as follows: “Biella tra ‘l monte e il verdeggiar de’ piani lieta guardante l’ubere convalle, ch’armi ed aratri e a l’opera fumanti camini ostenta”. After a hundred years the mountains and valleys are still there, but the industrial district, that of the smoking chimneys (the chimneys) has greatly reduced.

For a long time the watchword was travajè, to work. Now, fortunately, we have come back to appreciate a naturally gentle and almost completely unknown landscape outside the region, as secret as its products. Alpine cheeses, cured meats, honey, walnut oil are just some of the local glories. That too often remain local, unfortunately. A rare exception seems to be the Canestrelli Biellesi, two very light crispy wafers filled with excellent dark chocolate: thanks to the initiative of local confectioners and above all thanks to the network they are becoming known and exported.

 

From a writing found in the Royal Library of Turin by the historian Mario Rosazza and published by Colongo-Garlanda in 1927 under the title “the Biellese under the yoke of France”, it appears that already in 1805 Biella produced “Excellents Canestrelli, espèce de pàstisserie dont le chocolat est la base”, highly esteemed and since then sent to many cities. This manuscript is the main source of historical information on this dessert and is, rightly, quoted in every place where we talk about canestrelli. The chocolate filling was probably added later: the crispy waffles were prepared at home for festive occasions and cooked on special checkered irons – handed down from mother to daughter, along with the family recipe. The most ancient irons were made of pliers, so that they can be used on the fireplace, while the more recent ones open like a book and are also suitable for cooking on the stove. In Crevacuore, a village in the province of Biella, tradition has remained unchanged and the canestrelli are still prepared just like two hundred years ago: simple round wafers to be enjoyed with coffee or barolo chinato, cooked just the time of an Ave Maria.

The name canestrello could derive from the woven wicker baskets in which the desserts were put to cool, or from the squared design of the irons used for cooking that these baskets remember. The main ingredients of the wafer are: wheat and corn flour, sugar, butter, eggs, salt and baking powder.
The chocolate-based filling can also contain hazelnuts and almonds – more imaginative and modern versions also offer coffee creams.
The processing involves several phases. In a blender (called planetary) all the necessary ingredients for the pod are mixed. The batter obtained is then cooked between two rather large hot plates (a kind of toaster). Once removed and left to cool, the wafer is filled with a cream of chocolate, hazelnuts and almonds, finely prepared and processed in the tempering machine (machine used exclusively for processing chocolate) and then covered with another wafer.
Finally, the pods in rectangles are cut out using a special cutter. The Canestrelli Biellesi are part of the typical agri-food products of Piedmont.

For those wishing to taste these delights there are three possibilities: go on a trip to Biella, maybe wearing hiking boots and mountain biking (the site of the ATL is very useful and well done), try to find the canestrelli di Brusa, also sold in large retailers (at least in Lombardy), or buy online the products of Jeantet – the first pastry chef from Biella to try the magical world of ecommerce, Coggiola or Caffè del Teatro.

Hi, Piedmont!

(Daniela Acquadro)

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