Chocolate for Valentine’s Day is almost too cliché.
We said almost. It remains the perennial favorite no matter who is buying and who is receiving. A few facts: More than $1 billion is spent in the weeks before Valentine’s Day for chocolate candy — most of it bought by men as gifts for women. But annually, women buy and eat more chocolate than men.
Chocolates as a love-gift is relatively new. It’s been popular only since around 1913, when a Swiss confectioner figured out how to fill chocolates with creams and nuts. Before that, Valentine exchanges were mostly flowers and handwritten notes.
Today, the chocolate doesn’t stop with the heart-shaped boxes; restaurant pastry chefs must have a chocolate dessert on the menu or face losing their jobs.
Some take the easy way out and just offer truffles as a lagniappe — a little something extra — in the form of chocolate ganache balls dusted with cocoa or dipped in dark chocolate. They’re simple to make at home, yet yield the same over-the-top richness as offered in restaurants. (If you dine at La Bonne Bouche on Valentine’s Day, you’ll get a couple with your Opera Cake — the standard chocolate cake in that bakery.)
We tasted a chocolate-dipped cheesecake “lollipop” at the Culinary Café in Delray Beach — and though neither of the two sweets is something we go out of the way for, together they were sublime. It’s another simple way to work chocolate into a dessert, and please those who like cheesecake, and only want a bite of chocolate. If you shape the “lollipop” into a heart, you can claim this as your own creative idea.
Here’s how it’s done: Make or buy a creamy — not cakey — cheesecake. You can get a chocolate cheesecake if you want it to be total chocolate. Freeze the cake, then use a heart-shaped canapé cutter to cut it into little heart shapes — 2 or 3 across inches would work best. Once frozen, push lollipop sticks into the center of each.
Melt some good quality dark or milk chocolate in a deep double boiler. Dip the cheesecake hearts into the chocolate, coating completely. Note that the chocolate will set up almost immediately on the frozen cakes; you may also have to reheat the chocolate as you work to keep it fluid. Set the lollipops on a non-stick pan or on a cookie rack to dry completely. Cover, and chill until an hour before serving; remove and let lollipops come to room temperature.
At the Culinary Café, they served a trio of these, including a white-chocolate version, with a raspberry sauce for dipping. A warm caramel sauce, from the ice-cream aisle, also would be delicious.
Lastly, I’m offering an unusual recipe for beet brownies. The recipe has made the rounds of cooks all over, but it’s not just the novelty that thrills — it’s the incredible moist texture and rich chocolate flavor in every bite of these brownies. Fear of beets? No worries. The absolute lack of beet flavor will win you over. Those who’ve cooked with shredded carrots and zucchini and other vegetables know how moist they make a cake. You don’t have to tell a soul what’s in them; only another beet-brownie maker might be able to guess.
Traditional chocolate truffles
These are named after the famous fungi sniffed out by pigs in France’s woodlands. The recipe is one I’ve used for several years from Ghirardelli Chocolates. It’s a messy job to make these; wear baker’s decorating gloves. Begin the truffles at least 4 hours before serving or up to two weeks ahead.
1 /4 cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces (two bars) of bittersweet or dark (or a combination) chocolate, broken into small pieces — see note
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 /3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
In a small pan over medium heat, bring the cream to a simmer — bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate and butter. Put a half-inch of water into another larger pan; bring it to a simmer. Set the saucepan of chocolate into the simmering water and stir the chocolate, taking care not to let any water or steam droplets get into the chocolate. Stir until all the chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Use a rubber spatula to transfer the mixture to a shallow bowl; cool to room temperature and then cover and refrigerate until firm, at least two hours.
Don gloves to complete the work. Pour the cocoa powder into a pie plate. Line an airtight container with waxed paper or parchment. Dip a melon baller or small spoon into a glass of warm water and scrape across the surface of the chilled chocolate mixture to form a rough 1-inch ball, using your other hand to help round it out. Drop the ball into the cocoa. Repeat with the remaining truffle mixture. Gently shake the pie plate to coat the truffles with cocoa. Transfer the truffles to the container, separating each layer with more waxed paper. Cover tightly.
Truffles will keep two weeks in refrigerator or, if frozen, for up to 3 months.
This makes about 16 truffles.
Note: I have used Scharffen Berger, Ghirardelli and Callebaut chocolates to make these; these high-quality chocolates are available at most gourmet stores.Beet brownies
Believe us when we tell you the beets will never be detected in these delectable brownies. You can cook your own beets for the puree, but organic canned ones work just as well.
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (chips or chopped bar)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
3 /4 cup beet puree (boil beets to fork-tender then puree; or use 15-oz. can with juices)
3 /4 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/ 2 teaspoons baking powder
1 /8 teaspoon salt
1 /3 cup sugar
1 1/ 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a small bowl set over a simmering pan of water, melt chocolate and butter. Remove from heat and whisk in beet puree. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat eggs and sugar until eggs are light yellow and sugar is incorporated. Stir in chocolate-beet mixture. Stir in vanilla. Use a rubber spatula to fold in flour mixture just until combined — do not beat. Pour into a 13-by-9-inch greased baking pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. A tester may not work for a fudge-like brownie; if a cake-like texture is desired, bake until tester in center comes out clean. Cool completely before cutting into bars or triangles. Serve with a raspberry or fudge sauce.