Chocolate is universally loved and craved, especially on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. It’s intriguing how innovative chocolatiers and chefs, as well as home cooks, have brought out the full potential of the cocoa bean.
The ritual of exchanging confections, especially chocolates, is thought to be due to the aphrodisiac qualities. The release of endorphins increases desire and energy levels.
Chocolate has played a seductive role on the big screen, too. In the movie “Legally Blonde,” Reese Witherspoon, who played Elle Woods, said, “Endorphins make you happy.” Fans of old movies might remember Jean Harlow, in the 1933 movie, “Dinner at Eight,” where she finishes off a box of decadent chocolate in a seductive setting. Chocolate is produced from beans of the cocoa tree, also known as Theobroma cacao, which in Greek means “food of the gods.” It is thought, if it is food fit for the gods, why not give it to your loved ones and significant other.
Others reason, according to “Food Time Line,” the Valentine candy phenomenon is just a clever scheme developed by confectioners to promote products in the seasonal lull between Christmas and Easter. Whatever the reason, what better way to show your Valentine how special they are than by giving a gift of chocolate or other confections you made special for them?
The chocoholic that I am, I am always on the lookout for new creations. Just off the press, “Everything Chocolate: A Decadent Collection of Morning Pastries, Nostalgic Sweets, and Showstopping Desserts,” by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen (2020, America’s Test Kitchen, $35) will help me with my cravings, while baking my way to chocolate heaven.
The book is the go-to for every category of chocolate treat you can make for Valentine’s Day, or any day. So many recipes, there will be more to come next week.
Not only will you learn new recipes, the knowledge you will gain about the varieties of chocolate and their complex flavor profiles, the craft of bean-to-bar, decoding cocoa, storing chocolate, melting chocolate, and tools for working with it, who knows, maybe you will become the next Willy Wonka.
The first chapter is devoted to recipes for nostalgic treats such as whoopie pies, creamy chocolate pudding, thin chocolate mint cookies, and chocolate dipped potato chip cookies.
“Wake Up With Chocolate” will tempt you with recipes for chocolate-hazelnut spread, make-ahead hot chocolate, triple-chocolate sticky buns, chocolate babka, a favorite of mine, and the recipe for chocolate bread pudding at https://bit.ly/2Ud0SFe.
Have you ever put your nose against the bakery case looking at the variety of treats; chocolate chip cookies, chocolate eclairs, chocolate cannoli, and varieties of brownies, deciding which one (or should I say ones) you should purchase? Choose from these and many other recipes in the “Bakery Case Favorites” chapter.
You’ll find it difficult to choose which one to bake first from the “Cakes from Simple to Decadent” chapter. Will it be chocolate pound cake, chocolate peanut butter cake, magic chocolate flan cake, chocolate-stout bundt cake, or the recipe below for Chocolate Blackout Cake, among others?
Mississippi Mud Pie, chocolate tart dough, chocolate cream pie and flourless chocolate cake are included in the “Sublime Slices” chapter.
You won’t be at a loss as to what to bake for the holidays throughout the year with recipes in “Celebrating the Holidays.” Chocolate rum balls, chocolate candy cane cake, variations of holiday chocolate butter cookies, and perfect for Valentine’s Day, chocolate-raspberry heart cake (recipe below).
Those who really want to impress will be inspired with recipes “Dazzling Desserts.” Which will it be: White-chocolate-pink peppercorn panna cotta, triple-chocolate mousse cake, chocolate-raspberry petits fours, or chocolate-lavender Napoleons?
In “A Spoonful of Heaven,” there are recipes for frozen indulgences; chocolate sorbet, milk-chocolate no-churn ice cream, chocolate semifreddo with cherry sauce. Other eat-with-a-spoon treats: dark chocolate mousse, pots de crème, caramelized white chocolate mousse and chocolate-peanut butter crème brulee.
“DIY Confections” presents perfect for Valentine’s Day recipes for chocolate-covered strawberries, white chocolate nonpareils, chocolate fudge, chocolate bark with pepitas and goji berries, and a variety of truffles.
And, to top it all off, “Toppings, Sauces, and More,” does just that with variations of whipped cream, classic hot fudge sauce, chocolate frosting, including creamy vegan chocolate frosting, chocolate tahini or chocolate-port sauce among many other toppers.
As is the case with America’s Test Kitchen books, I found their tricks helpful: how to temper chocolate without constant temperature monitoring, using the microwave or incorporating stout in a recipe to bloom chocolate’s flavor. Making a silky ganache filling with water instead of cream makes for a deep hit of chocolate without the flavor-obscuring dairy, or why caramelizing white chocolate imparts butterscotch flavor to treats added to my baking knowledge.
The headnote says, Why This Recipe Works: We wanted to create a special, heart-shaped cake for Valentine’s Day featuring the flavors of chocolate and raspberry. And we wanted to put our love into this dessert with pans we already had at home — while we knew we could probably find a flimsy heart-shaped cake pan at a craft store, we generally avoid purchasing single-use kitchen items. For a cake with undeniable chocolaty richness, we used a generous amount of both cocoa and semisweet chocolate; some buttermilk added a mild tang. We poured the batter into one 8-inch square and one 8-inch round pan. Once baked, we leveled the round cake to ensure both were the same height and simply cut the round cake in half vertically to create two ears to attach to two adjacent sides of the square. For the frosting, we opted for a Swiss meringue buttercream; less sweet than other frostings, it helped balance the richness of the cake, and its ultrasatiny texture added an elegant decadence. Fresh raspberry puree gave our buttercream a lovely pink hue as well a note of bright berry flavor, while mixing in some melted white chocolate contributed a silky richness. Piping pink roses over the cake and dotting it with whole fresh raspberries were beautiful finishing touches.”
For the cake, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease 8-inch square baking pan and 8-inch round cake pan, line each with parchment paper, grease parchment, and flour pans.
Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together in bowl. Microwave chocolate and butter in second bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth, 2-4 minutes. Whisk sugar, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla together in third large bowl.
Whisk chocolate mixture into sugar mixture until combined. Whisk in flour mixture until smooth. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center of each cake comes out clean, 35-45 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Let cakes cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Run thin knife around edge of pans, remove cakes from pans, discarding parchment, and let cool completely on rack, about 1 hour.
For the frosting, process 11/2 cups raspberries in food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds. Strain puree through fine-mesh strainer into bowl; discard solids and set aside puree. Microwave chocolate in bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted, 1-2 minutes; let cool slightly. Combine sugar, egg whites, and salt in bowl of stand mixer. Set bowl over saucepan filled with 1 inch barely simmering water, making sure that water does not touch bottom of bowl. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture reaches 160 degrees, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and transfer to stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whip warm egg mixture on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low, add butter 1 piece at a time, and whip until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add melted chocolate and mix until just combined. Slowly add raspberry puree and mix until incorporated.
Place 1 corner of square cake against lower edge of large (about 16 inch diameter) cake platter. Using serrated knife, shave domed top from round cake to make it level with square cake; discard top. Cut round cake in half. Place halves, with cut sides facing in, against top 2 edges of square cake to form heart shape. Spread 21/2 cups frosting over top and sides of cake in thin, even layer. Fill pastry bag fitted with star tip with remaining frosting and pipe roses (spiraling from inside out) over top and sides of cake. Place fresh raspberries between roses. Serve. Serves 10 to 12.
The headnote says, “Why This Recipe Works: When the Ebinger’s chain of bakeries closed its doors more than 45 years ago, Brooklyn residents went into mourning over the loss of their beloved blackout cake, a tender, decadent chocolate cake layered with a pudding-like filling and covered with cake crumbs. We set out to create our own version. Using an ample amount of cocoa powder — Dutch-processed was essential for its dark hue — in the batter and blooming it in butter were the first steps toward making a cake worthy of the name. The addition of some brewed coffee and brown sugar further underscored the chocolate notes. A generous amount of unsweetened chocolate kept the sweetness of the pudding in check, and some cornstarch thickened it to the proper consistency so it would cling to the sides of the cake. A combination of milk and half-and-half gave the pudding a velvety, lush quality that complemented the dark, rich cake.”
For the pudding, whisk half-and-half, milk, sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in large saucepan. Add chocolate and whisk constantly over medium heat until chocolate melts and mixture begins to bubble, 2 to 4 minutes. Off heat, stir in vanilla. Transfer pudding to large bowl and press plastic wrap directly on surface. Refrigerate pudding until cold, at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.
For the cake, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper, grease parchment, and flour pans. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in bowl.
Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in cocoa and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Off heat, whisk in coffee, buttermilk, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until sugars are dissolved. Whisk in eggs and vanilla, then slowly whisk in flour mixture.
Divide batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Let cakes cool in pans on wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove cakes from pans, discarding parchment, and let cool completely on rack, about 2 hours.
Using long, serrated knife, cut 1 horizontal line around sides of each layer; then, following scored lines, cut each layer into 2 even layers. Crumble 1 cake layer into medium crumbs and set aside. Line edges of cake platter with 4 strips of parchment to keep platter clean. Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread 1 cup pudding evenly over top, right to edge of cake. Repeat with 1 more cake layer, pressing lightly to adhere, and 1 cup pudding. Top with remaining cake layer, pressing lightly to adhere. Spread remaining pudding evenly over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle cake crumbs evenly over top and sides of cake, pressing lightly to adhere. Carefully remove parchment strips before serving. (Cake can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.) Serves 10 to 12.
7th annual Febtoberfest Craft Beer Festival: Feb. 6 (snow date Feb. 20), 6-9 p.m., hosted by Mattatuck Museum. Waterbury Elks Lodge, 283 W. Main St., Waterbury; $40 in advance, designated driver ticket $15. Tastings of local beer, wine, and food. Tickets at https://bit.ly/2NQhmir.
Consiglio’s Demonstration Cooking Class: Feb. 13, 6:30 p.m., Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, 203-865-4489 (reservations required), $75 (beverages, tax and gratuity not included). Menu: Bolognese and Mozzarella Filled Arancini, Homemade Caesar salad, seafood Arrabiatta, chocolate cherry-filled crepes. https://bit.ly/2Nd0xAg
Consiglio’s Mystery Dinner Theatre: “Harts a Flutter” Feb. 21, 7 p.m., Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, reservations at 203-865-4489, $65 includes dinner and show (beverages, tax and gratuity not included). An interactive comedy show that goes on throughout the evening during a three-course meal. Cast mingles table to table, dropping clues for a mystery only you can solve. A family reunion goes terribly wrong. Dress in your finest red attire to compete for top prize. Menu at https://bit.ly/2Ge9QKj.