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Getting your just desserts

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

Valentine’s Day is on a Thursday this year, and many restaurants, wineries and other places are celebrating it this weekend, while just a few are opting for the weekend after.

I say it’s not Valentine’s Day without chocolate.

But it will have to be Valentine’s Day without conversation hearts this year, since the company that made them, Necco, has gone out of business. The buyers of their product line though, promise we’ll be talking with hearts again in 2020.

Besides, those cute little hearts didn’t have much flavor.

As author Susan Wittig Albert points out in her latest newsletter All About Thyme, chocolate is an herb, and the Aztecs are the ones who believed that, when mixed with chilies, chocolate is an aphrodisiac. Their chocolate likely had no sugar in it, either.

The Mayans, about 1,000 years ago, worshipped the cacao plant and used its beans as currency. They also brewed the beans into a medicinal drink called xocolatl. You can see how the word chocolate evolved from that.

Albert continues:

“The Spanish explorers knew a good thing when they saw it, and took the cacoa beans home to make a drink for their wealthy patrons. The French feared it might raise passions to a frenzy, but the Brits loved it enough to take the risk, and chocolate-loving English emigrants carried it with them to North America in the late 1700s.”

Now we know chocolate is good for us, and the darker the better. We’re talking about 70 percent cocoa solids in the chocolate that’s good for you. That dark chocolate also pairs well with coffee.

Strangely enough, some people don’t like chocolate. They can have the fruits associated with Valentine’s Day, raspberries, cherries or strawberries, though non of them are in season in February.

Red velvet cake is considered one of the best desserts for Valentine’s Day, Christmas, birthdays, etc., but cooks have discovered other ways to let them eat cake, with red velvet brownies, red velvet cookies, even red velvet cream cheese squares and red velvet ice cream.

Let’s try something else, something still decadent that emphasizes the dreaminess of a red velvet concoction. And while we’re at it, offer a rich pudding, an easy, but delicious pastry and, for the people who don’t love chocolate, a flirtacious strawberry delight.

Red Velvet Cheesecake

1 pound milk chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup butter

1 (9 oz.) package chocolate wafer cookies (40 to 45 cookies)

1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces

1 cup slivered almonds

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup butter, melted

4 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened

1 (8 oz.) carton dairy sour cream

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup buttermilk

1 (1 oz.) bottle red food coloring (2 Tbsp.)

4 eggs

2 egg yolks

Chocolate leaves (optional)

Powdered sugar (optional)

Unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)

Fresh raspberries and/or small whole strawberries (optional)

In a medium saucepan, melt chocolate and 1/2 cup butter over low heat; transfer to a bowl and cool completely.

Place wafer cookies, chocolate pieces, almonds and brown sugar in a large food processor. Cover and process until finely ground. Add the 1/2 cup melted butter; cover and process until well combined. Transfer crumbs to a 10-by-3-inch springform pan with a removable bottom. Press crumbs onto bottom and up the sides of the pan, leaving a 1/2-inch space at the top of the pan. Set aside.

For filling: In a very large mixing bowl, beat the cooled chocolate mixture, cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, buttermilk and red food coloring with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until combined. Add 4 eggs and 2 egg yolks all at once. Beat on low speed just until combined.

Pour filling into crumb-crust lined springform pan. Place springform pan in a shallow baking pan on the oven rack. Bake in a 350 degree oven about 1 hour, or until 2 inches of outside edge appear set when shaken gently.

Remove springform pan from baking pan. Cool cheesecake in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Use a small metal spatula to loosen cheesecake from sides of pan. Cool 30 minutes more. Remove sides of pan. Cool for 1 hour; cover and chill at least 4 hours.

To serve, use a paper doily to decoratively sift powdered sugar and cocoa powder on the top, if you like. Garnish the center with chocolate leaves and fresh raspberries, if you like. Clean knife between each cut. Makes 20 servings.

Midwest Living

Ultimate Chocolate Dessert

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 tsp. instant coffee granules

1 pinch salt

1 cup heavy cream

3 Tbsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Stir chocolate, instant coffee and salt together in a medium bowl.

Heat cream, sugar and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it just begins to simmer.

Pour hot cream mixture over the chocolate mixture; let sit for 1 minute.

Whisk the chocolate and cream mixture for 1-2 minutes until combined.

Pour the mixture into four small espresso cups or small ramekins. Tap to remove any air bubbles. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

Serve topped with grated chocolate, or add lightly whipped cream and dust with cocoa powder.

Or top with raspberries or strawberries sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Allrecipes, Chef John

Nutella and Strawberry Croissant

1 package crescent roll dough (8 oz.)

Nutella

5-6 large strawberries, chopped

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Separate dough into 8 triangles. Place a tablespoon of Nutella on the wide end of the triangle, spreading it to the tip, but not to the edges so it does not melt out of the crescent. Sprinkle a few chopped strawberries over the Nutella. Roll up the crescent and bake for 15-20 minutes until light golden brown. Let cool slightly before serving. Best served warm.

These crescents can be reheated in a low oven if needed.

Strawberries and Wine

3 cups fresh strawberries, quartered lengthwise

3/4 cup white sugar, or to taste

1 1/2 cups dry rosé, or sparkling wine

Place strawberries in a medium bowl. Dust with sugar, then pour the wine over them. Cover and refrigerate 2-3 hours.

Let the strawberries stand at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before serving. Spoon berries into six dessert cups, and distribute the remaining wine over the berries.

Garnish with curls of chocolate, if desired.

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