Valentine's Day is synonymous with love and Italians traditionally have been considered to be lovers. Known in Italy as "La Festa Degli Innamorati," Valentine's Day is celebrated only between lovers and sweethearts. Young sweethearts in Italy profess their love for each other all year round with a more recent tradition, attaching padlocks or "lucchetti" to bridges and railings and throwing away the key.
The celebration of Valentine's Day in Italy is actually an imported holiday from the American tradition, just like Halloween which was never originally an Italian tradition but is celebrated today. It is a holiday for romantic couples and children do not exchange Valentine cards as they do in the United States.
Valentine's Day actually has its origin in the Roman Empire as a holiday on February 14 to celebrate the Queen of Roman gods and goddesses. The ancient Romans also considered this queen named Juno to be the goddess Queen of Women and Marriage.
Another legend related to the origin of Valentine's Day refers to St. Valentine who was a priest who defied the Roman emperors' order banning marriage between lovers during wartime and Valentine secretly married them. Once this was discovered, he was put to death on February 14 and later was named a saint by Pope Gelasius.
To celebrate this lovers' holiday Italians give each other flowers, plan romantic dinners and present each other with chocolates, much like in the United States. The renowned Italian chocolate maker, Perugina celebrates this day by making a special edition of the Baci chocolate candies with a shiny red wrapper and a sweet red cherry and liquid center rather than the traditional hazelnut one. These chocolates are always a favourite and inside the foil wrapper there is a "love note" with a romantic phrase.
Florence and Venice are traditionally considered to be two of the most romantic places in Italy but Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet celebrates Valentine's Day with a four-day celebration of events designated "Verona in Love." In the center of Piazza dei Signori a giant red heart is painted on the street and illuminated heart-shaped lanterns are featured throughout the city center. Free concerts with romantic themes take place in Piazza dei Signori and there is a contest for the most beautiful letter written to Juliet. To attract lovers and sweethearts to spend a weekend in Verona, many of the local hotels offer deals and the restaurants feature specially priced menus.
The tradition of locking padlocks to bridges, railings and lamp posts began in Italy a little more than four years ago after the release of the best-selling book "Ho voglio di te" (I want you) by the Italian author Federico Moccia. This was followed by the popular movie with the same name starring Riccardo Scamarcio and Laura Chiatti.
In the story young lovers tie a chain and a padlock around a lamppost on the north side of Rome's ponte Milvio and inscribes their names on it, lock it and throw the key into the Tiber River below. The action suggests that the couple will be together forever.
Baci are essentially Italy’s version of Hershey kisses (baci = ‘kisses’ in Italian), except they are richer, nuttier and well, ten times better in my opinion (nothing against Hershey kisses which were an essential part of my childhood). So how exactly do Italian Baci differ from American Baci?
For one, the insides are made up of gianduia (hazelnut chocolate) and chopped hazelnuts. Then each chocolate is topped with a whole hazelnut (this gives them their signature form) and covered in dark chocolate. Afterwards, they are wrapped up in silver paper with blue stars, but before that, they are filled with a surprise love message in Italian, similar to a fortune cookie!
They are perfect for Valentine’s Day (too mushy? yes?). Although after making them once, I think this might become a monthly recipe. Make a batch, keep them in the freezer, pop them out when you have company – or not. Anytime will do really.
Baci chocolates were created in 1922 by the well renowned Italian chocolatier, Perugina. The story goes that one day Luisa Spagnoli, the wife of one of the co-founders, wanted to put to good use some of the leftover chopped hazlenuts and chocolate, so she blended the remaining ingredients together and covered her creation with dark chocolate (now that’s my kind of woman!). She named it the ‘cazzotto’ which, believe it or not, means “punch” in Italian. Although cazzotto is quite an appropriate name (eating a Baci chocolate is like getting punched in the stomach because they are so rich and dense), the name was later changed to Baci in order to market the chocolate in a more romantic way.
Makes 25-30 Baci Chocolates, depending on size
1 1/3 cup (200 g) hazelnuts1 1/4 cup (300 g) Nutella or any other chocolate hazelnut spread5.5 oz (150 g) dark chocolate (I prefer dark but you could also use milk or white)1 tablespoon cocoa powder10.5 oz (300 g) dark chocolate
First thing you MUST do is listen to this song to get in the baci mood.
After that, we can begin the cooking.
Chop 1 cup of hazelnuts in a food processor or chopper.
In a double boiler, melt 5.5 oz of dark chocolate (you can also use a microwave, using low heat and stopping to stir every 30 seconds or so).
Place nutella in microwave for about 15 seconds, then add to melted chocolate in the double boiler. Mix nutella and melted chocolate well.
Remove from double boiler and add cocoa powder. Mix until cocoa powder has dissolved and mixture is smooth. Add chopped hazelnuts and mix well.
Transfer mixture to a casserole dish or pan lined with parchment paper. Chill in refrigerator for about 1 hour.
Remove from fridge. Mixture should be soft and moldable (if it’s too hard, let it sit for a few minutes).
Using your hands, form into tiny balls (a little smaller than a golf ball) and place on a tray or baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Add whole hazlenuts on top. Place in the fridge for another hour.
Melt the remaining chocolate in a double boiler. Dip the base of the Baci in the chocolate and place back on parchment paper. Refrigerate for another 10-15 minutes, or until chocolate has hardened.
Transfer Baci to a wire cookie rack and place parchment paper underneath. Cover with melted chocolate. Place in fridge for another 30 minutes until Baci become solid.
Before eating, allow Baci to sit outside of the fridge for a few minutes until softened.
Happy Valentine's day!
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