No, not that one. I’m talking about the other one … you know, that annual event which shows up in the aftermath of the “S” word (i.e., Superbowl, as I mentioned recently). In other words, that great Hallmark holiday known as “Valentine’s Day”. Oy veh.
I already shared my thoughts about this last year:
Suffice it to say, Valentine’s Day is not something I celebrate. Do I really want to go out for an overpriced, limited choice dinner in some overcrowded restaurant that is probably overwhelmed and in the weeds? Do I really need to destroy trees just so I can give Henry a couple of cards that he will read once and throw away? Do I really need to receive a bouquet of flowers or a blue box from Tiffany? (Well, “yes” to that last one, but we won’t go there). You get where I am going with this.
Speaking of cards, my parents had the best idea. They would go to the drugstore together and stand in front of the cards, reading them until they found “the right ones.” They would then read them to each other, put them back, wish each other a happy Valentine’s Day and go on their merry way. No muss, no fuss, no cost and no waste of trees. If I were the card-giving sort, that is exactly what I would do.
So Henry and I will be staying home on Valentine’s Day (as usual) this year. I might cook something a little more special than the usual weekday “slop the hog” fare. I might even make a special dessert, like chocolate mousse or crème brulee. Hell, I might even make both of them! But I won't be giving out any cards or gifts and I won't be making any reservations!
(Oh, and Henry, how lucky are you anyway? This lets you totally off the hook. Care to show your appreciation with something blue from Tiffany?)
CRÈME BRULEE WITH A SECRET
4 cups (1 quart) heavy cream
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
9 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
9 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 cup mini chocolate chunks or chopped chocolate
Preheat oven to 250-degrees.
Place cream and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a low boil, stirring frequently. When mixture is gently bubbling, turn off the heat.
Meanwhile, combine the cornstarch, salt and egg yolks in a medium bowl. Add about ¼ cup of the hot cream mixture to this and whisk until blended. Return everything to the hot cream remaining in the pan and let stand (off the heat) for 10 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract (or vanilla paste).
Divide the chocolate chunks evenly between 6 crème brulee dishes (about 2 tablespoons each). Strain the custard mixture into a large pitcher or pouring vessel and pour over the chocolate in each dish. Chocolate should be barely visible.
Place the custards in a shallow pan and add hot water to come halfway up sides. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until just set. Custards should still be slightly wobbly in the center.
Remove from water bath and cool slightly, then wrap each dish in plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve.
To serve, sprinkle 1 ½ tablespoons of the turbinado sugar over each custard and smooth into an even layer. Use a blowtorch to caramelize the tops so they become golden and crunchy. Serve immediately.
Yield: 6 servings
Tempering the eggs
Straining the custard
One down, another to go
* I used crème brulee dishes, but you can use custard cups, small gratin dishes or whatever you have. The advantage of the crème brulee dishes is that they are shallow and have a greater surface for the caramelized sugar, which is not a bad thing if you ask me.
* I have one of those kitchen blowtorches which is ideal because it's small and easy to store, but one of those regular old big blue blowtorches from the hardware store will work just fine. In fact, that's what we used in the bakery at Star Provisions. If all else fails, you can run them under the broiler, just keep a close eye so they don't burn.
* Chocolate chunks not required for this recipe. If you omit them, you will end up with a classic and lovely crème brulee, which is sometimes my preference. Feel free to tinker with this - you could add raspberries, candied ginger or anything else you can think of. You could also add liqueur to the custard or any other flavoring of choice.
* I use turbinado sugar because I think it adds a lovely depth of flavor (which is also why I prefer vanilla paste to vanilla extract). Nonetheless, you will be just fine if you use granulated sugar and pure vanilla extract.
DARK CHOCOLATE MOUSSE (from Thomas Keller’s “Bouchon”)
4 ½ oz. bittersweet chocolate (at least 60%)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
2 tablespoons espresso or brewed coffee
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
3 eggs, separated (recipe specifies “large” but I used “extra-large”)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Combine the chocolate, butter and espresso in the top of a double boiler over hot, but not simmering water. Stir frequently until smooth and remove from heat. Let cool slightly, but make sure chocolate is still warm to the touch. If it is too cool, the mixture will seize when rest of ingredients are added.
Meanwhile, whip the cream to soft peaks. Whip the egg whites in an electric mixer until they are foamy and just hold their shape. Sprinkle in the sugar and beat until soft peaks form.
Stir yolks into the chocolate. Gently stir in about 1/3 of the whipped cream. Fold in half of the egg whites until just incorporated, then fold in remaining whites. Fold in the remaining whipped cream.
Spoon or pipe the mousse into a serving bowl or individual dishes. Chill for at least 8 hours before serving.
* I have a lot of confidence when it comes to melting chocolate, so I rarely use a double boiler, relying instead on low heat and a keen eye. Nonetheless, for this recipe, I decided to follow Mr. Keller's advice. It didn't let me down.
* Be careful not to cool the chocolate mixture too much or indeed it will seize, as it did on me the first time I tried this recipe. You don't want it piping hot, but it does need to be fairly warm. Follow that guideline and you will meet with success.
* In a perfect world, it might be nice to pipe the mousse into individual serving glasses, but to heck with that. I certainly don't want to screw with it and personally, I like the more rustic look when it is simply spooned into whatever serving dish(es) you are using.
* Mr. Keller serves this at his restaurants in individual dishes, accompanied by Langues de Chat, which are also known as Cats' Tongue Cookies. Edna Lewis was famous for hers; here is the link to her recipe:
Now I know these aren't complicated recipes, but that's exactly what is right about them. They are both simple and stunning. What else do you need in a dessert? It doesn't need to be overly complicated to be delicious. I mean really ... who doesn't like crème brulee or chocolate mousse?
Happy "V" day, everyone! Or not.