Chocolate treats to make your valentine's heart skip a beat

Bittersweet chocolate and strawberries star in this chocolate sandwich.
Scott Keeler/St. Petersburg Times/SHNS
Story by Janet K. Keeler
(St. Petersburg Times/SHNS)
Tue, Jan 25, 2011
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Love can be a bittersweet affair. There's that over-the-moon outlook when nothing ever, ever will dampen those giddy feelings. She is perfect in every way. No one compares to him.

Then he forgets to call and she texts once too often. The reality of every relationship is that the very good is almost always accompanied with a little not-so-hot. Bittersweet.

Valentine's Day is coming right up, and we think a breakfast-in-bed brunch menu featuring bittersweet chocolate is a fine way to woo your honey, whether you celebrate the holiday on Feb. 14, a Monday this year, or over the weekend leading up to it. Even if you're not much of a cook, you can whip up a frothy Chocolatier cocktail of light rum, Creme de Cacao and chocolate ice cream with chocolate shavings on top. Surely, that says "I love you." Or at least "I tried," always an important concept on Valentine's Day.

Chocolate has become nearly as complicated as wine, with many types and brands available. Don't let the percentage numbers on packages intimidate you. Here's what you want for the recipes included here: bittersweet chocolate that doesn't exceed 62 percent cacao. Cacao -- cocoa solids -- derived from processing the bean is what gives chocolate its distinctive flavor; added sugar makes it sweet, and cocoa butter, also from the bean, makes it smooth.

Bittersweet chocolate has about a third less added sugar than semisweet chocolate, even though the two are often used interchangeably in baking. In general, you should use the type of chocolate called for in the recipe or risk results you aren't happy with. Unsweetened chocolate, as it says, has no sugar at all -- it's 100 percent cacao -- and milk chocolate has the most sugar and least amount of cacao. Actually, white chocolate has the least amount of cocoa solids: none.

The Food and Drug Administration classifies bittersweet chocolate as containing at least 35 percent cacao, but many brands on the market contain much more than that. You'll find Baker's and Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate in most grocery stores and some bigger markets carry Scharffen Berger and Lindt.

Now, we are not suggesting that your brunch include all of the recipes here, just that you pick one or two as a centerpiece and build a meal around it.

For instance, the Sugared Chocolate Beignets would be a lovely accompaniment to Greek yogurt, honey and chopped walnuts. Or offer them with mini-quiches and fresh fruit.

These little pastry pillows are a busy cook's best friend because they can be made ahead and frozen. Serve just after they've come from the oven for best results. Did we mention they start with puff pastry, a great convenience item to keep in your freezer?

You can show off your mad baking skills with the homemade crust for Rustic Chocolate Tart or use prepared pie dough. We tested the recipe with prepared dough and it worked well. (Look for the unroll-and-fill variety, not the dough already formed in the pan.) The free-form pie is very rich but would still benefit from a dollop of freshly whipped cream without sugar. Serve as the sweet ending to a traditional omelet-bacon-toast brunch.

Grilled Bittersweet Chocolate Sandwiches are a sophisticated offering that can be tinkered with according to your tastes. Call them panini if you want to be more trendy. Sliced strawberries or bananas change the taste, as would chopped hazelnuts or even peanuts. These are also rich, thanks to the butter on the bread. A wee bowl of fresh raspberries and strawberries would be an appropriate accompaniment.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries will go with just about anything and can easily be made the day before. In fact, they should be. Melt about 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate with 1 tablespoon shortening and dip away. Make sure your strawberries are very dry.

SUGARED CHOCOLATE BEIGNETS

  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 2 sheets (17 ounces total) cold, thawed puff pastry dough
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Combine corn syrup and cream in a microwave-safe container. Heat in 30-second intervals until boiling. Put chocolate in a bowl and pour hot cream on top. Stir chocolate until smooth, then chill, stirring often, until firm, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll each pastry dough sheet into a 12-inch square. Cut each square into 16 smaller squares and transfer to a baking sheet.

In a bowl, lightly whisk egg and 1 tablespoon water to blend, then brush over pastry squares. Spoon about 1 teaspoon chocolate into the center of each square. Fold 1 corner of each square over to meet the opposite corner, forming a triangle. Press edges to seal. Use a 2-1/2-inch round cutter to trim corners of triangle and form a shape that resembles a three-quarter moon. Wrap trays with plastic wrap and freeze at least 1 hour and up to 1 week. (To save space, after 30 minutes of freezing, put pastries in resealable plastic bags in freezer.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake pastries, switching pan positions once, until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes. Put sugar in a bowl and turn beignets in sugar to coat. Serve immediately.

Makes 32.

Nutritional information per beignet: 111 calories, 2g protein, 7g fat, trace fiber, 78mg sodium.

-- Sunset magazine, February 2010

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RUSTIC CHOCOLATE TART

  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (not to exceed 62 percent cacao), coarsely chopped
  • 2 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • Chocolate shavings (optional)

To make the crust, thoroughly mix flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Cut butter in chunks and add to bowl. With two knives or pastry blender, cut butter into flour, tossing to coat with flour until largest pieces are the size of pine nuts and remaining pieces resemble coarse breadcrumbs. As you work, scrape flour up from bottom of bowl, and scrape butter from knives or pastry blender. Do not let butter melt or blend completely into flour. Drizzle 1 1/2 tablespoons cold water over flour mixture while tossing and mixing, until just moist enough to hold together when pressed. Add remaining water if needed. Turn out on plastic wrap. Gather into a flat disc, pressing together any loose bits. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate 30 minutes or up to 3 days.

Position rack in lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Let dough stand 30 minutes at room temperature, or until pliable enough to roll without cracking. On lightly floured surface, roll dough to 14- by 9-inch oval, about 1/8-inch thick, rotating and dusting with flour to prevent sticking. Brush excess flour from dough; fold in half to transfer to a piece of parchment slightly larger than dough. Unfold dough. Loosely fold and roll edge, without pressing, to form rimmed crust. Place parchment with pastry on baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until light golden brown (crust edge will be a little raw inside).

Meanwhile, for filling, melt chocolate in microwave on 50 percent power (medium) about 2 minutes. Stir frequently until chocolate is almost completely melted. Remove from microwave. Stir until melted; set aside.

In bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Beat until whites are stiff but not dry. Pour pecans and melted chocolate over whites; fold with spatula until batter is uniform color.

Remove crust from oven. Reduce oven to 350 degrees. Dollop filling on crust. Spread to 1/2-inch thick. Bake 10 minutes, or until surface looks dry and slightly cracked (fudgy inside). Cool on baking sheet on rack. Serve warm or cool. Cover and refrigerate after 2 hours or up to 24 hours. To serve, sprinkle with pine nuts and chocolate shavings.

Makes 10 servings.

-- Better Homes and Gardens

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GRILLED BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE SANDWICHES

  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 16 (1/2-inch-thick) baguette slices, cut on a long diagonal
  • 1 (3- to 4-ounce) fine-quality bittersweet chocolate bar (no more than 62 percent cacao if marked), broken into 1/2-inch pieces

Generously butter 1 side of each baguette slice. Place 8 slices, buttered sides down, on a work surface and cover each slice with chocolate, leaving a 1/4-inch border around edge. Top with remaining baguette slices, buttered sides up, to make 8 sandwiches.

Heat a dry 12-inch heavy skillet (not nonstick) over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then fry 4 sandwiches, turning over once, until golden, 3 to 4 minutes total. Transfer sandwiches to a plate and wipe skillet clean. Fry remaining sandwiches in same manner. Serve warm.

Note: Add sliced bananas or strawberries, or even chopped hazelnuts, to the sandwiches if you'd like.

-- Gourmet

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CHOCOLATIER

  • 1 ounce light rum
  • 1 ounce Creme de Cacao
  • 5 ounces chocolate ice cream
  • 1 tablespoon shaved bittersweet or milk chocolate

Combine rum, Creme de Cacao and ice cream in a blender and blend at a low speed for a short length of time. Pour into a chilled champagne flute, garnish with chocolate shavings and serve.

Serves 1.

-- Webtender.com

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