Friday, February 13, 2009

My Funny Valentines: Some Sweets for You and Yours

So tomorrow is the big day when we celebrate luuuuuv...or all the florists, candymakers and greeting card companies, as the case may well be. Not that I would scoff if someone were to send me fresh flowers or fine chocolates (doesn't even have to be Godiva...I live for See's Butterscotch Squares!), but I think you show your love best when you make something homemade for your honey.

If you are planning to prepare a fancy dinner tomorrow night to romance your sweetheart, may I suggest the following dessert: Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Torte! It is every bit as decadent as it sounds, and not terribly difficult to make, despite its elegant appearance. I have made this cake twice for Cyd's birthday and also for my friend Carey's at work--and the people raved! Carey took the leftovers home to share with her parents, and she reported that even her dad loved it, and he doesn't care for peanut butter! That's because the mousse filling is both milk chocolate AND peanut butter, plus, the cake is darkly intoxicating, and the whole affair is covered in bittersweet ganache. What's not to love? If this doesn't sweep your Valentine off his or her feet...well...then the person clearly has no taste and should be kicked curbside at once, as you could do so much better. ;-)

Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Torte
Windham Hill Inn, West Townshend, Vermont)

3 cups sugar
2 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon espresso powder dissolved in 1 1/4 cups of warm water
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 large eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Peanut Butter Mousse Filling:
10 oz. milk chocolate (you can also use semi-sweet)
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream

Chocolate Glaze:
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon corn syrup

Preheat oven to 375º. Lightly grease and flour a nine inch spring form pan*. Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, add the dry ingredients and mix slowly until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together espresso, oil, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. Slowly add all of the espresso mixture to the dry ingredients. Increase speed to medium and beat until mixture is smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape with a rubber spatula into prepared pan. Bake approximately 35-40 minutes or until cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in pan 20 minutes, then invert on wire rack to cool completely.

Peanut Butter Mousse:
Melt chocolate over double boiler. When completely melted, add peanut butter. Whisk until smooth. In a separate pan bring milk to a gentle boil, remove from heat. Add half the milk to chocolate/peanut butter mixture. Mix well and repeat with remaining milk, again mixing well. In a separate bowl, beat heavy cream until soft peaks form. With a rubber spatula, slowly fold the whipped heavy cream into the chocolate peanut butter mixture, mixing only until combined.

Chocolate Glaze:
Combine heavy cream and corn syrup. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add the finely chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth. Chill slightly to firm.

With a serrated knife, slice cake into three even layers. Smoothly spread half of the peanut butter mousse mixture on the bottom layer. Top with middle cake layer. Repeat using remaining mousse mixture, capping with top cake layer. Ice top and sides with chocolate glaze.

*The first two times I made this, I only had a ten-inch springform pan, so I used that, and it was fine. This time, I tried it with my new nine-inch springform pan (as the recipe calls for), and the cake rose WAY over the top and erupted on one side like a chocolate Mount Vesuvius! It was a big old mess (my oven still hasn't recovered), but luckily the filling and frosting hideth a multitude of sins when you assemble the torte. However, in the future, I will either go back to my ten-inch pan, or perhaps do away with springform pans altogether (which are fraught with danger where very runny batters are concerned), and just split the batter into thirds and bake in regular cake pans so that I don't even have to bother with splitting the cake with a knife.

Now if you want to make something much less involved and/or individual treats for Valentine's Day, here's another idea and what I brought for my co-workers today: Cranberry-Pecan Shortbread Hearts. This is an uncharacteristically simple recipe from Martha, but of course, I jazzed it up a bit with the addition of pecans and a fancy drizzle of white chocolate ganache on top. Then I let the glaze dry for a few hours before packaging them in two's (like cozy lovebirds!) and covering them with red Saran Wrap. Easy-peasy, and my division seemed delighted by their Valentine treats!

Cranberry-Pecan Shortbread Hearts
(Source: Adapted from
Martha Stewart Living)
Makes about 1 1/2 dozen 1 3/4-inch hearts

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely chopped dried cranberries or cherries (I left mine whole)
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped, optional

Heat oven to 325 degrees.with a rack in center. Combine butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, flour, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Beat with a wooden spoon until combined but not too creamy (I did this in my stand mixer). Stir in dried cranberries and pecans.

Pat dough evenly into an 8- or 9-inch-square baking pan. Bake until just beginning to turn golden, about 20 minutes. Place pan on cooling rack until cool enough to touch, about 20 minutes. Run knife around edges, remove shortbread, and transfer, right side up, to work surface. Use 1 1/2- to 2-inch heart cookie cutter to cut out cookies. Use a paring knife to trim stray bits of cranberry from edges*.

Cookies will keep for 5 days at room temperature in an airtight container.

*I did not do the cutting-after method as described above. I patted my dough out into a ten-inch circle and cut the heart shapes before baking for about 15-18 minutes, until the edges turned golden. Then I cooled the cookies in the pan for about ten minutes before removing them to a rack to cool completely. Then I drizzled them with a white chocolate ganache that I made by melting over a gently-simmering double boiler the following:

12 oz. (real!) white chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Aerogarden Update: Week Six

Did I say a week "OR TWO" until my next salad? I had my second harvest of lettuce last night, exactly one week after the last, and I anticipate yet another next week! So fun and so yummy! :-)


John said...

Where does one find espresso powder?

JoyBugaloo said...

You can often find it in the regular grocery store nowadays (amongst the instant coffees). Barring that, try smaller, specialty food stores or any place specializing in Italian food products. Of course, the easiest thing to do is order some from King Arthur online!

Happy baking! --Gina

Randi said...

The pb mouse cake might just have to be Robin's bday cake next year( the big 45!!). It looks soooo good.

I'm going to Cali in March and can't wait to get some See's!!

Charles J said...

I followed your link from Martha's shortbread recipe.. Your're gifted!...jazzing them up with chocolate, packing them in pairs in red saran..Bravo! i will visit you again!

Kathy said...

My daughter just bought me an aero garden for Xmas and I haven't set it up yet. Any tips on how to set it up other than general directions and when to prune, etc. for a great harvest like yours. I am on a 1200 cal/33 grams diet and need fresh veges all the time. Please share your tips and tricks for a bountiful harvest. Great job on the cranberry shortbread hearts. I might use a heart pan to cook them. SpunkyKathy