Everybody knows what romantic couples do to celebrate the day of St. Valentine, right? They go to an elegant, expensive restaurant for dinner. It’s the wisdom of the ages.
Still, there is a counter wisdom, one helped along by the sheer number of couples clogging tables for one big night and the toll that reality takes on restaurant food quality and especially service. We get the feeling that more and more relationships are given a desirable nudge when one or both parties prepare a special dinner at home. That too can be romantic, and that especially can be lots of fun.
Our single bit of advice, allowing for tastes all over the map when it comes to appetizer and entree: when it’s time for dessert, make something chocolate. For at least a century and a half, thanks to the glories of marketing first in England and then in America, nothing says love like the gift the ancient Aztecs gave to the larger world.
Just think back to Jean Harlow, one of Hollywood’s original blonde bombshells, in the 1933 film “Dinner at Eight.” There she is, lounging on the bed wearing satin and sequins, with a heart-shaped pillow for the benefit of anyone who’s a little slow – meaning, of course, a man. And if that suggestion were not enough, she’s nibbling on her favorite selections from a huge box of chocolates.
Tracing the name back to its beginnings, there is no official link between Valentine’s Day and chocolate. Neither of the likely saints named Valentine would have ever tasted the wonderful stuff, since the Aztecs hadn’t invented it yet and the conquering Spaniards hadn’t brought any back to Europe, where it immediately became all the rage. By the early 1600s, there were chocolate houses rivaling coffeehouses in London. This makes a lot more sense when you hear chocolate described as a “West Indian drink that cures and preserves the body of many diseases.” Like the Aztecs themselves, Londoners enjoyed chocolate as a beverage.
In England, it was the now-famously named Richard Cadbury who, searching for an improvement on his family’s cocoa drink, came up with
what he called “eating chocolates.” Credited with being his own best marketing department, Cadbury started putting Cupids and rosebuds on heart-shaped boxes. Even when all the chocolates were gone, which usually didn’t take long, the boxes proved an appropriate place to store the ink-on-paper love letters that predated emails, texts and Facebook messages as expressions of deep affection.
In the United States, fellow chocolatiers followed Cadbury’s lead, especially as romance and Valentine’s Day came to be thought of together.
Milton Hersey came up with a system for covering caramels with sweet chocolate in 1894 and, only thirteen years later, created a line of tear-shaped candies he dubbed Hershey’s Kisses. He described these at the time as “a most nourishing food.” Other advances in the world of Valentine’s chocolates were made by Whitman’s and Russell Stover, the latter beloved for its Secret Lace Heart covered in satin and black lace. Yes, you certainly can give your sweetheart a box of chocolate from a store, even if Forrest Gump and his mother did have some sage advice on that subject.
Alternatives include sharing a sensational chocolate dessert like the recipe that follows, perhaps pairing it with a gift box of sauces from us at Fischer & Wieser. In honor of the season, we will even send you a copy of our cookbook “The Sauce” if you order between February 1 and 4. Happy Valentine’s Day!
FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH CHERRY SAUCE
Chocolate and cherries are one of those food marriages made in heaven, which makes them doubly romantic as the grand finale of any Valentine’s feast.This recipe incorporates a flambe step for show, but the flames of love will be stoked by this chocolate extravaganza whether you set dessert on fire or not.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus additional
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus additional
1 ½ cups heavy cream
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cognac or other brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 cup pitted tart cherries
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
½ cup cognac or other brandy
½ cup Fischer & Wieser Almond Cherry Jubilee Jam
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch Springform pan and dust with cocoa powder. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter with 1 cup heavy cream. Add the chocolate pieces and stir until thoroughly melted. Remove from heat. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, granulated sugar and cocoa powder. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture, followed by the 1 tablespoon cognac, vanilla and almond. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until set, 40-45 minutes. Let cool in pan for 1 hour, then run knife around the edges and invert onto a serving dish.
To make whipped cream, pour the remaining heavy cream and powdered sugar into a chilled metal bowl and beat with a chilled metal whisk, until thickened with soft peaks forming. Whisk in remaining cognac. To make the sauce, stir the cherries with the sugar and water over medium-high until bubbly, then carefully pour in the cognac and flambé until the flame burns out. Add the jam and cook until liquefied and combined. Spoon cherries and sauce over wedges of cake. Top with whipped cream. Serves 10-12.
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