Valentine's Day is upon us once again. Sometimes, I think it was especially created for chocolate lovers. For weeks, shops have been displaying hearts of all sizes covered in red velvet, pink silk and gold foil.
Beneath the alluring coverings lie seductive morsels of chocolate. Millions of folks all over the world will express their love by presenting their sweeties with this gift. Chocolate — the very word evokes mouth-watering taste associations.
Is there a more heavenly dessert on the planet than an exquisitely rich, satiny mousse? What sensual pleasure can compare with a brandy-kissed chocolate truffle melting on the tongue? How about a decadently rich, moist flourless cake, aptly called Chocolate Sin?
Aside from the sexy adjectives that chocolate inspires, what seems to be the link between Valentine's Day and this wonderful food item?
After chocolate was introduced to Europe in the 17th century, ladies of New Spain were accused of committing various crimes under its influence. A century later, Madame du Barry served Louis XV an aphrodisiac prepared with cocoa beans.
As it turns out, there may be some scientific basis to chocolate's alleged aphrodisiac properties. Cocoa beans contain a chemical called phenylethylamine, which acts as a mood elevator; the flavor components of chocolate also stimulate nerve endings concentrated in the lips, which, of course, are linked to the mouth.
So, you see, there is more to the association of chocolate and love than simply myth or superstition.
What better way to honor Valentine's Day than with these beguiling desserts? I leave it to you and your valentine to discover if the potion really works.
Brandied Chocolate Truffles
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 Tbsps. brandy
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
In a medium saucepan, heat the chocolate and cream until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
Stir in the butter a piece at a time until the butter is completely melted.
Stir in the brandy. Pour into bowl, cover and refrigerate until mixture is firm, about 3 hours or overnight.
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Spoon 1-inch mounds of chilled chocolate mixture onto the waxed paper. (Use a melon baller, if desired.) Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
In a large, shallow bowl, combine the powdered sugar with the cocoa.
Roll the chocolate balls in this mixture and place each in a small paper candy cup. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes about 21/2 dozen.
Chocolate Satin Mousse
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 lb. bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
2 Tbsps. butter
1/4 cup strong brewed coffee
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsps. coffee liqueur
2 egg whites, room temperature
2 Tbsps. sugar
lightly sweetened whipped cream for garnish
Beat the cream until fairly stiff and refrigerate.
Melt the chocolate with the butter and the coffee over low heat. Transfer to a large bowl.
Mix the egg yolk and liqueur in small bowl, and then gradually whisk into the chocolate mixture.
Beat the egg white until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually and beat until stiff, but not dry.
Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture. Fold the chilled whipped cream into the chocolate mixture.
Pour into two 4-ounce ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm. Just before serving, garnish with a dollop of whipped cream.
10 oz. bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
1/2 cup butter, cut into 8 pieces
6 eggs, separated, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 tsps. dark rum
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 Tbsps. powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 375°.
Butter and flour an 8-inch springform cake pan.
Melt the chocolate with the butter until smooth.
Beat the egg yolks at a high speed, gradually adding 3/4 cup of sugar. Beat until the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 5 minutes.
Add the chocolate mixture to the yolk mixture; beat until smooth. Stir in the rum and the vanilla.
Beat the whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Beat until stiff, but not dry.
Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture and pour into prepared pan. Smooth top with spatula.
Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° and bake another 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 250° and bake for 30 minutes longer. (Total time: 1 hour.)
Turn the oven off, prop door slightly open and allow cake to remain in oven for 30 minutes. Remove cake; cool completely. Dome of cake will crack and collapse — press top of cake gently to smooth top.
Remove cake from springform to serving platter. Dust with powdered sugar.
Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream, if desired.
Louise Fiszer is a California cooking teacher and food writer. E-mail her at:email@example.com.