Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day: The Chocoholic's Holiday

I hope everyone had a sweet Valentine's Day! Mine was lovely and lazy after a frustrating day yesterday. The roommate and I decided to take ourselves to Montreal, as is so often our way. We had grand plans of hitting the IKEA west of the city, followed by an Oscar-worthy movie, a wonderful dinner somewhere, and maybe even some Krispy Kremes for dessert. However, you know what they say about the best-laid plans...

I'm sad to report that the whole day was pretty much a BUST! We got a late start, and foolishly chose to go through the big (Champlain) border, where the long lines and slow pace of the border attendants made us even later. When finally got to IKEA, we had to park far, far away, and walk to the entrance in the terrible, arctic winds. I was already a little sick to my stomach for some reason, so an hour and a half among the overwhelming crowds and the screeching children only exacerbated my nausea. Plus, I only ended up with about ten bucks worth of pointless doo-dads that I had to wait in line for 25 minutes to pay for! And I didn't even get to have Swedish meatballs at the cafe located about halfway through the trek through the humungous store because my tummy was still out of sorts. But I did buy a big bag of the frozen meatballs, two packets of sauce mix, and lingonberry jam to make at home, along with a box of rosti (potato fritters). We had this Swedish feast for lunch today, and despite the fact that it was insta-food from a furniture manufacturer, it was darn good! I have also become addicted to these little cookies that they call Kex biscuits, which are like a wheatier version of McDonaldland cookies, one of my perennial favorites.

After our IKEA ordeal, we didn't feel like fighting our way back into the city to the AMC Forum where all the Oscar contenders were playing. So we decided instead to go to the suburban cineplex that was right near the IKEA to see Wolfman. Despite a stellar cast that included Emily Blunt (LOVE her!) and Sir Anthony Hopkins, the film was laughably awful, and our fellow moviegoers were incredibly rude and noisy. Our next bad decision was to have dinner at the overpriced, lackluster Chinese buffet in the same shopping center, replete with more insufferable crowds and screaming children. Lastly, we spent an hour driving around, trying to find a Krispy Kreme before giving up and beginning the (now longer since we moved) drive home. It seems our Montreal outing was foiled at every turn yesterday. Then again, the worst day in Montreal is often better than the best day in little old Plattsburgh. And it all became kind of comical at some point. Nevetheless, I decided to stay home, watch the Olympics, and bake cookies or something relaxing today in hopes of recuperating from the Montreal debacle!

My Valentine's Day started in the best possible way, with my awakening obscenely late, having acquired NINE full hours of sleep, which I so desperately needed before the work week starts anew! Cyd got up early and tended to the dogs and the wood stove, and even waited for the firewood delivery while I snoozed the day away. When I finally got my lazy butt up, I was greeted to the following Valentine's "basket" from my incredibly sweet and generous friend. It included a pretty card, not one but TWO volumes of the "Glee" soundtrack (I am obsessed with that show!), the blu-ray of Julie and Julia, a delicious new perfume called "In Bloom" from Reese Witherspoon (yes, Reese Witherspoon!), and one giant Reese's peanut butter heart--a Reese theme, if you will. I was just tickled to death with all my surprises. THANK YOU, Cyd! :-D

My plan for my Sunday was to make belated Valentine's cookies for my co-workers. I even bought some new cookie cutters and a rolling pin, but I just couldn't seem to find the drive. But I did manage to make an incredible dessert to accompany tonight's dinner (i.e. steak and caesar salad made with local, organic greens), something decadently chocolatey in honor of Valentine's Day. I spied the recipe for Chocolate Soufflé Cupcakes with White Chocolate Mint Cream on Smitten Kitchen, and it is truly fantastic, and not very difficult, either. Plus, the cakes are flourless, so they are great for the gluten-free crowd and/or for Jewish folks at Passover. And they are just delectable--ethereal little clouds with a deep chocolate resonance. And the minty cream on top? Oh man, I just want to BATHE in it! And I am not even a big fan of white chocolate, but it makes a silky, lustrous topping that marries perfectly with the mint flavor. Just be sure to buy REAL white chocolate with cocoa butter and not those vile "white chips" or vanilla bark. (Tip: Baker's now produces white chocolate baking squares.) Much of my kitchen is still in boxes (yes, still--don't judge me--which is also why I had to buy another rolling pin), and I couldn't find my peppermint extract. But I did unearth a bottle of Starbuck's peppermint syrup, so I added maybe a teaspoon and a half of that instead, and it made the cupcakes taste like a peppermint mocha! DELISH! Make these for your sweetie and/or your favorite chocoholic immediately!

Chocolate Soufflé Cupcakes with White Chocolate Mint Cream
Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 9 cupcakes (I got 11, so I made half again as much of the mint cream)

Chocolate Soufflé Cupcakes:
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used some wonderfully dark Merckens chocolate chips that I found at our local co-op)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
heaping 1/4 teaspoon espresso or instant coffee powder
3 large eggs, separated
6 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

White Chocolate Mint Cream:
2 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
3 ounces heavy whipping cream
1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract

Place the white chocolate in a small bowl. Bring the cream to a simmer, pour it over the chocolate and let it sit for a minute to melt the chocolate. Whisk well. Add the peppermint extract and whisk again. Lay a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the cream. Chill until very cold, about two hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 9 standard-size (3-ounce) muffin cups with paper liners. Stir chocolate, butter and espresso powder together in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until mostly melted, then remove from the heat and whisk until it is fully melted and smooth. Cool to lukewarm, stirring occasionally.

Using electric mixer (a hand mixer, rather than a stand mixer, actually works best here because the volumes are so small) beat egg yolks and 3 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl until mixture is very thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Briefly beat lukewarm chocolate mixture, then vanilla extract, into yolk mixture. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and all of the salt, beating until medium-firm peaks form. Fold whites into chocolate mixture in 3 additions. Divide batter among prepared cups, filling each three-fourths of the way.

Bake cakes until tops are puffed and dry to the touch (some may crack, embrace it) and a tester inserted into the centers comes out with some moist crumbs attached, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool in pan on a cooling rack, where the cupcakes will almost immediately start to fall. It will be all the better to put your mint cream on them.

Beat mint white chocolate cream with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Remove cupcakes from pan, arrange on a platter. Fill each sunken top with a healthy dollop of white chocolate mint cream. Top with shaved dark chocolate, if you’re feeling fancy.

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