Valentine's Day baking: A good excuse to be sweet

News-DemocratFebruary 10, 2014 

Writing about Valentine's Day food is just an excuse to look for recipes that contain two words: Red or chocolate. You hit a winner when you get both words in one recipe title. (Other "red" food words count, too, such as strawberry or raspberry.)

I'm not sure who makes treats to celebrate Feb. 14. It used to be that moms would bake Valentine's Day goodies to send off to school with the kiddos to share in their classroom. Not anymore. Seems there is much to fear from home-baked goods (who knew?) and most schools now allow only already-packaged store treats.

What you'll find here is a small collection of two categories of desserts from Better Homes & Gardens: Ones so easy you'll barely need a spatula and a couple that require more work, such as Double-Chocolate Mascarpone Raspberry Pie.

Mini Raspberry Whoopie Pies

1. Make your favorite sugar cookies, or bake a store-bought package.

2. Get a knife and a jar of good-quality raspberry (or strawberry) jam.

3. Buy a container of whipped vanilla frosting (or make your own). Put it in a sealable plastic bag and cut a 1-inch hole at one bottom corner.

4. Spread flat side of one cookie with jam.

5. Top with a neat swirl of frosting.

6. Put another cookie on top, flat-side down.

7. Add more frosting to top, leave plain or top with a squirt of whipped cream.

Strawberry Cheesecake Bites

1 3/4 cups shortbread cookie crumbs (about 30 square cookies)

1 tablespoon sugar

3 tablespoons butter, melted

32 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1/4 cup honey

1 teaspoon vanilla

Honey (optional)

Sliced strawberries

1. Preheat oven to 325degrees. Line a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan with heavy-duty foil or parchment paper, leaving 1 inch of foil hanging over edges of pan; set aside.

2. Shortbread Crust: In a medium bowl, combine crushed cookies and 1 tablespoon sugar. Stir in melted butter until combined. Press mixture into the bottom of prepared pan.

3. Filling: In a very large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until fluffy. Beat in flour until combined. Add eggs and vanilla; beat on low speed until just combined. Stir in sour cream. Pour filling in crust-lined pan. Bake 40 minutes.

4. Sour Cream Honey Topper: In a medium bowl, stir together sour cream, honey and vanilla. Remove cheesecake from oven. Spread mixture over hot cheesecake. Bake 10 minutes more. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 1 hour. Cover; chill at least 4 hours.

5. Use foil to lift uncut bars from pan. Cut into 54 bites. Top each square with a strawberry slice. If desired, drizzle with additional honey.

Each has 130 calories, 9 grams fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 11 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams sugar, 91 mg sodium.

Hot Cocoa Brownie Cake

1 (18.3-ounce) package brownie mix

1/3 cup whipping cream

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 recipe Marshmallow Coffee Frosting

Unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan. Line bottom of pan with a circle of parchment paper. Grease parchment; set aside.

Prepare brownie mix according to package directions. Pour into prepared pan. Bake according to the package directions for a 9-by-9-inch square pan, or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool completely on wire rack.

Remove brownie from pan. Place cooled brownie on a baking sheet.

In a small saucepan, bring cream just to boiling over medium-high heat. Do not allow to scald. Remove from heat.

Add chocolate (do not stir). Let stand 5 minutes, then stir until smooth.

Chill in fridge or freezer about 5 minutes, or until it reaches a spreading consistency.

Spread chocolate over top of brownie "cake" in an even layer. Chill 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare Marshmallow Coffee Frosting. Pipe into meringue-like peaks or spread onto top of cake. Chill 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bake about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack. If desired, dust with cocoa powder. Makes 10 servings.

Marshmallow Coffee Frosting

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/3 cup cold water

2 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 tablespoon coffee liqueur or strong brewed coffee*

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In the top of a 2-quart double boiler, combine sugar, the cold water, egg whites and cream of tartar.

Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Place the double boiler top over boiling water (upper pan should not touch water). Cook, beating constantly with the mixer on high speed, for 10 to 13 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees F when inserted in mixture. Remove pan from heat. Add liqueur and vanilla. Beat about 1 minute or until frosting is fluffy and holds soft peaks (tips curl).

*If you have coffee-flavored extract, this could be used, though a very small amount would be needed, perhaps a 1/4 teaspoon.

Editor's note: Making this frosting this way ensures raw eggs are cooked and can transfer no food-born illness. Still, if you aren't worried about consuming this meringue-style frosting using raw eggs, just beat the eggs without using the cooking process.

Double-Chocolate Mascarpone Raspberry Pie

1 single-crust pie dough

8 ounces mascarpone cheese

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons raspberry liqueur or 1 teaspoon raspberry extract

1 cup whipping cream

2 cups fresh raspberries

1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam, melted and cooled slightly

White Chocolate Topping (optional)

Semisweet chocolate shavings (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Prepare pie dough.

On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to slightly flatten dough. Roll from center to edges into a circle about 12 inches in diameter. Wrap circle around the rolling pin. Unroll into a 9-inch pie plate. Ease into pie plate without stretching it. Trim pastry to 1/2 inch beyond edge of pie plate. Fold under extra pastry even with the plates edge. Crimp edge as desired. Generously prick bottom and sides of pastry with a fork. Line dough with a double thickness of foil. Bake 8 minutes. Remove foil. Bake 6 to 8 minutes more, or until golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan combine mascarpone cheese, bittersweet chocolate and powdered sugar. Cook and stir over medium-low heat until mixture is smooth. Remove from heat; stir in liqueur or extract. Cool to room temperature.

In a chilled medium mixing bowl, beat whipping cream with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form (tips curl). Stir about 1/2 cup of the whipped cream into chocolate mixture to lighten. Fold in the remaining whipped cream just until combined. Spoon chocolate mixture into pastry shell, spreading evenly. Cover and chill for 3 to 24 hours.

To serve, in a medium bowl gently stir together raspberries and melted jam; spoon over chocolate mixture. If desired, garnish with White Chocolate Topping and semisweet chocolate shavings.

White Chocolate Topping

2 ounces white baking chocolate

1/4 cup whipping cream

2/3 cup whipping cream

In a small heavy saucepan, heat and stir white baking chocolate and 1/4 cup whipping cream until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth; cool.

In a medium, chilled mixing bowl, beat 2/3 cup whipping cream with an electric mixer on medium speed until mixture mounds but does not form peaks; turn off mixer. Add white chocolate mixture; beat on low speed just until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight).

Red Velvet Cheesecake

Chocolate mixture:

1 pound milk chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup butter

Crust:

1 (9-ounce 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

Filling:

32 ounces cream cheese, softened

8 ounces sour cream

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons red food coloring

4 eggs

2 egg yolks

Topping:

Powdered sugar (optional)

Unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)

Fresh raspberries and/or small whole strawberries (optional)

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

Crust: 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.

Filling 2: 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 pan. Place 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 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.

Individual Brownie Trifles

Can of whipped cream or Cool-Whip, thawed

8 baked brownies, crumbled into pieces (about 2 cups)

2 cups fresh raspberries or dark sweet cherries, pitted

1 cup chocolate ice cream topping

Unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)

1. Divide half of the crumbled brownies between 4 large parfait glasses or water goblets.

2. Divide half of the raspberries, ice cream topping and whipped cream between the glasses, creating layers.

3. Repeat layers with remaining brownies, raspberries, ice cream topping, and whipped cream. If desired, sprinkle with cocoa powder. Serve immediately or cover and chill up to 4 hours. Makes 4 servings.

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