Imagine a homemade Valentine’s gift packed with chocolate – every piece crafted with loving attention. Sweet indulgences made with affection. What better way to say “Be My Valentine?”
Years ago I asked Carole Bloom, cookbook author, teacher and chocolate authority, about the allure of chocolate. She told me it contains a chemical that creates the same chemistry in the brain as when people are in love, a feeling of euphoria.
We could all benefit from a chocolate-induced jubilation in the skull. Also keep in mind that the ghost of Christmas past may have piled up holiday bills to reckon with. An expensive gift may not be appropriate. A delicious chocolate treat sounds like the ticket.
Chocolate pots de crème remain a favorite in our house. These delicious little “pots of cream” are traditionally made in little cups with lids designed specifically for the custards; with the lids intact, the pots and the crème cups sit in a hot water bath in the oven. The lids prevent splashes from spoiling the delicious contents. But if you don’t have the little lidded cups, try an easy-to-use approach devised by the chefs at America’s Test Kitchen. This alternate technique cooks the chocolate custard on the stovetop, then pours it into individual 5-ounce cups or ramekins. Simple.
Or, if you prefer, try a Chocolate Éclair Cake, a revised, all-new take on an old-fashioned icebox cake. A 9-by-13-inch baking pan is lined with graham crackers, then half of a mixture of pudding and whipped cream is spooned onto it. Then another layer of graham crackers is added and then a second layer of the pudding mixture. A final layer of graham crackers is topped with a chocolate glaze made with semi-sweet chocolate chips, light corn syrup, and whipped cream. Oh boy, it tastes downright decadent. A nostalgic spoonful of opulence.
Chef Michael Owens, director of food service at Bracken’s Kitchen, creates delicious Moon Pie Cookies, marshmallow-fluff-style buttery filling sandwiched between pie-like slices of dark chocolate. Some might argue that these rich cookies should be called Whoopie Pies, but whatever you call them, few would argue about their deliciousness.
Happy Valentine’s Day. Enjoy this annual hall pass for a little chocolate binge.
Moonpies by Michael Owens
Yield: About 9 to 11 sandwich cookies
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 cup of sugar
1 large egg
1 cup of evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 cup of powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup marshmallow cream
Cook’s Notes: Add 1/2 cup peanut butter to the filling, if desired.
1. Set the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking tray(s) with baking paper.
2. In a large bowl of electric mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium speed using paddle attachment; beat until light in color, scraping sides as needed with a rubber spatula (or silicone spatula). Slowly add egg, evaporated milk, and vanilla to incorporate; beat on medium speed, scraping bowl as needed.
3. Sift flour, salt, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients and mix until well incorporated. Using a pastry bag fitted with a medium piping tip, pipe batter into silver dollar sized circles onto prepared baking sheet. Bake until cookies are firm to the touch, about 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack to room temperature. Meanwhile, prepare the filling.
4. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, use the paddle attachment to beat together the butter, powdered sugar and vanilla until fluffy and there are no lumps of butter. Add marshmallow cream and mix to blend. Put the filling in a piping bag with a large, smooth tip.
5. Match the cookies to size. Make sure they have as consistent a diameter as possible. Pipe the filling onto the flat side of a cookie. Take the other cookie and put them on top of each other. Repeat until all cookies are filled. Store cookies, airtight, in the refrigerator.
Chocolate Eclair Cake
Yield: 15 servings
1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) sugar
6 tablespoons of cornstarch
1 teaspoon of salt
5 cups of whole milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
5 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 1/4 tsp unscented gelatin
2 tablespoons of water
2 3/4 cups heavy cream, chilled, divided use
14 ounces graham crackers
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
5 tablespoons of light corn syrup
1. Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a large saucepan. Whisk the milk into the sugar mixture until smooth and bring to a boil over medium heat, scraping the bottom of the pan with a heatproof rubber spatula. Immediately reduce heat to medium-low and cook, scraping bottoms, until thickened and large bubbles appear on surface, 4 to 6 minutes. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla. Transfer the pudding to a large bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding. Refrigerate until cool, about 2 hours.
2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in the bowl and let stand for about 5 minutes until the gelatin has softened. Microwave until mixture bubbles around the edges and gelatin dissolves, 15 to 30 seconds. Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat 2 cups heavy cream on medium-low speed until frothy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and beat until soft peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Add the gelatin mixture and beat until stiff peaks form, about 1 minute.
3. Whisk one-third of the whipped cream into the chilled pudding, then gently fold in the remaining whipped cream, 1 scoop at a time, until blended. Line the bottom of the 13-by-9-inch baking dish with a layer of graham crackers, breaking up crackers as needed to line the bottom of the pan. Top with half of the pudding-cream mixture (about 5 1/2 cups) and another layer of graham crackers. Repeat with remaining pudding-cream mixture and remaining graham crackers to cover top.
4. Combine chocolate chips, corn syrup, and remaining 3/4 cup cream in a bowl and microwave on 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. Let the frosting cool completely, about 10 minutes. Spread the frosting evenly over the graham crackers and refrigerate the cake for at least 6 hours or up to 2 days before serving.
Source: “America’s Test Kitchen Everything Chocolate” (America’s Test Kitchen, $35)
Chocolate Pots de Crème
In step number two of this pot de creme recipe, use an instant-read thermometer to judge when the custard has reached the right temperature. To judge the thickness, dip a wooden spoon in it and run your finger over the back of the spoon. The custard is ready when it coats the spoon and a line drawn with your finger creates neat edges.
Yield: 8 servings
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
5 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons (2 1/4 ounces) of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon of instant espresso powder mixed with 1 tablespoon of water
To serve: sweetened whipped cream, optional cocoa powder for dusting, optional chocolate chips for sprinkling
1. Place the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl; place a fine mesh sieve over the bowl and set aside.
2. Whisk egg yolks, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl until combined, then whisk in heavy cream and half and half. Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, until thickened, silky and registering 175 to 180 degrees, 8 to 12 minutes. (Do not overcook or simmer the custard.)
3. Immediately pour the custard through a sieve over the chocolate. Let the mixture stand for about 5 minutes. Beat gently until smooth, then whisk in the vanilla and dissolved espresso. Divide the mixture evenly among eight 5-ounce ramekins. Gently tap the molds against the counter to remove any air bubbles.
4. Cool the jars of the cream to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days. Let the jars of the cream sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.
5. Brush each jar of the cream with about 2 tablespoons of whipped cream and, if desired, sprinkle with cocoa powder and/or chocolate shavings. serve,
Source: “America’s Test Kitchen’s modern bistro” (America’s Test Kitchen, $35)
Cooking question? Please contact Cathy Thomas at [email protected]