The Simple Art of Cooking: Valentine’s Day Treats

Does eating chocolate containing that strange property, phenylethylamine, a chemical stimulant released by the brain offer a high level of passion? Studies have shown that it does and there are few better ways to end a Valentine’s Day dinner than with a dessert made from chocolate.

I’ve always loved chocolate desserts that they are fairly straightforward. I love a dark, moist flourless chocolate cake, unadorned by icings and creams. It may not look magazine picture perfect, but it tastes divine and isn’t too sweet. Chocolate mousse Basque with its rich gelatinous texture is the best chocolate mousse I ever tasted. It’s perfect party fare that can be made one or two days ahead. My husband loves bread pudding of any stripe. I think he will be pleased with a simple and satisfying chocolate croissant bread pudding.

Working with chocolate can be tricky. Care should be taken when melting or it can turn lumpy if heat is too high. Break chocolate into pieces and melt in a slow oven or over very low heat in the top of a double boiler.

Whether you’re melting chocolate or someone’s heart it’s time to splurge on Chocolate desserts.

ELIZABETH DAVID’S FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE

Elizabeth David, the noted British cookbook author, wrote widely on

Mediterranean cooking.

Yield: 1 8-inch cake

 

4 ounces imported bittersweet chocolate

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon brewed espresso (or any strong coffee)

1 tablespoons brandy

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup ground almonds

3 large eggs, separated

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Confectioner’s sugar for decoration

 

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter an 8-inch springform pan and dust with flour or breadcrumbs.

 

1. Break up chocolate in small pieces and put in a heavy saucepan with vanilla, coffee and Brandy. Melt over very low heat, or place in a small heatproof bowl and melt in a 250-degree oven. When mixture appears soft, remove from heat and stir to a smooth cream. Return saucepan to burner top and add butter, sugar and almonds and heat slowly until butter is melted. Transfer to a mixing bowl.

2. In a small bowl beat egg yolks until slightly thickened and lemon colored, about 3-4 minutes, and stir into the chocolate mixture.

3. In a bowl of electric mixer or in bowl with electric hand beaters, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar, adjust speed to medium high and continue beating until egg whites are very firm and stiff peaks form. Fold about one-fourth of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture and stir to soften. Carefully fold in remaining whites until thoroughly incorporated.

4. Transfer batter into the prepared pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes. The cake will have some cracks on top and a cake tester inserted in the center will not come out clean. The cake will rise and then fall. Let the cake cool completely on a rack. Run a knife around the side of the pan and remove the side of the springform. Dust with confectioner’s sugar for serving.

The above recipe is adapted from Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking.

 CROISSANT CHOCOLATE BREAD PUDDING

The American Dairy Association is the inspiration for this pleasing recipe which is baked in a bain marie.

Serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons butter, softened

3 large (2 1/2 ounces each) day-old croissants

3 thick (about 1 ounce each) slices of French bread

3 1/2 cups milk

3 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 ounces good quality dark sweet or bittersweet chocolate, broken into 1/2 inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350°F

Generously butter a 1 1/2 quart shallow baking dish

1. Cut croissants and bread into 3/4 inch pieces; place in a large bowl. Pour milk over the contents and let stand for 15 minutes.

2. Beat eggs with sugar until thoroughly combined, and add vanilla extract and salt.

Stir in chocolate pieces. With a rubber spatula, scoop into the milk and bread mixture. Stir carefully to mix. Pour into prepared baking dish. Place the baking dish in a shallow roasting pan (bain marie). Pour hot water into the roasting pan until it reaches half way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until pudding is golden brown and set. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 CHOCOLATE MOUSSE BASQUE

Adding coffee to the chocolate mixture greatly enhances the deep rich flavor of this chocolate mousse.

Serves 10-12

4 eggs, separated

6 ounces imported semisweet chocolate

2 tablespoons strong coffee*

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

3 tablespoons sugar

1 cup heavy cream

Garnish

1/2 cup heavy cream

Candied violets (optional)

1. Place whites in a large mixing bowl or bowl of electric mixer; yolks in a small bowl and allow whites to come to room temperature.

2. Break up chocolate in small pieces and put in a heavy saucepan. Add coffee and melt over very low heat, or place in a small heatproof bowl and melt in a 250-degree oven about 10 minutes. When mixture softens, remove from heat and stir to a smooth cream. Stir 1 tablespoon butter at a time into the hot chocolate mixture mix well. Add egg yolks, one at a time, and stir until thoroughly incorporated.

3. In a bowl of electric mixer or in mixing bowl with hand electric beaters, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar, adjust speed to medium-high, and continue to beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Continue beating about 1 minute until whites are very firm and shiny. With a large rubber spatula, spoon about one-fourth of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture and stir to soften. Carefully fold in remaining whites until thoroughly softened.

4. Whip cream in a cold bowl with cold beaters until the beaters drawn across the top leave light traces; then carefully fold into mousse. Transfer to an attractive serving bowl or soufflé dish.

5. To garnish: Whip 1/2 cup cream until stiff. Spoon cream into a pastry bag fitted with star tip and pipe a row of rosettes around the rim of the bowl. Top rosettes with candied violets, if desired.

Above recipe reprinted from Silvia Lehrer’s Cooking at Cooktique, Doubleday.

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