Most people agree that chocolate is romantic. When it's presented in a heart-shaped box, however, the collection of confections takes on a new meaning. It magically becomes a very sincere gesture, reminiscent of a more innocent time. It may be the "sweetest" way imaginable to say, "I love you."
But there's a slight problem. The majority of chocolate purchased in heart-shaped boxes is nothing to write home about. Most of it is mass-produced, inferior-quality chocolate wrapped around filling which is tooth-achingly sweet. To make matters worse, you really have no idea how long these heart-shaped boxes have been sitting around in a warehouse.
So, does this mean that your Valentine's Day gift is doomed? Of course not! I have a solution for this chocolate conundrum. You're probably saying to yourself, "Oh great, he's gonna refer us to some fancy chocolatier who sells artful truffles at $65 a box." I wouldn't do that; it's too easy. Instead, I'm going to give you a recipe for what I believe is the greatest chocolate dessert in the world, one that's been a favorite of YOU Magazine readers in the past: molten chocolate cake. But first, a little history lesson about this delectable ingredient.
The History of Chocolate
Ancient Mayans discovered chocolate nearly 2,000 years ago when they realized that the cacao (kah-kow) tree, which was indigenous to the rainforest, yielded pods that contained beans. These beans were ground, along with other spices and grains, to a make a spicy yet bitter beverage. Over the next several hundred years, the beans and the drink were shared with the Aztecs through trade.
In the 1500s, Aztec Emperor Montezuma also shared the drink, now called "chocolatl", with Cortez, the Spanish Conquistador. It was Cortez who brought cacao beans (and the drink) back to Europe. Finding the drink too bitter, the Spanish sweetened it with sugar, flavored it with vanilla and cinnamon, and served it hot! Sound familiar? The Spanish kept chocolate a secret from the rest of Europe for nearly 100 years, until the monks who were consigned to process the beans... ahem, spilled the beans.
Throughout the next several hundred years, and thanks to inventions like the steam engine and cocoa press, all of Europe was drinking a much more refined version of this cacao bean beverage. By the mid 1700s, mass amounts of chocolate were being produced within the US colonies as well.
Two huge developments came out of the 19th century, forever changing the way we consume chocolate. In 1847, the English produced the first solid, "eating" chocolate. And in 1876, the Swiss began adding milk to the chocolate. Today, chocolate is not only a major business, it's a serious part of our gastronomic culture.
The majority of us love chocolate and for reasons that go far beyond its delicious taste. Chocolate is a psychoactive food containing anandamide (a chemical found in the brain which promotes the sense of well-being); caffeine (we all know what that does); and tryptophan (an essential amino acid which reduces anxiety). The consumption of chocolate has also been shown to release endorphins, natural opiates which exist within the brain.
Chocolate can be good for your health, as well! It's a great antioxidant. Chocolate contains the same amount of phenols (chemicals which prevent oxidation within arteries) as red wine. It has also been found to thin the blood, which can help to prevent clots.
Time for a Little Dessert
The dessert we're making for Valentine's Day is none other than Molten Chocolate Cake. If you've ever ordered this dish in a restaurant, you know it's about as "over-the-top" as a dessert can be.
Imagine the lightest and moistest chocolate cake you've ever eaten. Now imagine it served warm with a little whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. As you take your first bite, you discover an added bonus, a molten river of dark chocolate cascading from the center. Sounds amazing, right? It is! But there are a few things I would like you to know.
First, this is a rich and decadent dessert. My recipe makes 6 "individual" servings, but those with smaller appetites could easily share one. Second, this is NOT a low-cal, low-fat, or low-carb dessert. This is pure confectionary firepower, the likes of which you rarely experience. But keep in mind, this is Valentine's Day. If there was ever a time to relax the diet and enjoy the sumptuous perfection of chocolate, this is it. Enjoy!
Molten Chocolate Cake (serves 6)
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- Vegetable spray
- 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp cake flour (plus more for dusting)
- 1/2 lb. high-quality, bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 large whole eggs
- 4 large egg yolks
- Powder sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using vegetable spray, grease six 6-ounce ramekins and dust with cake flour. In the top of a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar, whole eggs, and egg yolks. Whisk in the cake flour. Evenly distribute the batter among the 6 ramekins, and bake for 10 minutes or until the sides of the cakes are set but the center still jiggles. Let the cakes cool for 2-3 minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides and invert onto plates. Garnish with powder sugar and serve with either vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.
There you have it, a perfect dessert for the day that celebrates sweethearts. If you still miss that heart-shaped box after eating this dessert, I don't know what to tell you. Maybe next year you can run out to your local restaurant supply store, pick up a few heart-shaped ramekin dishes, and turn out heart-shaped cakes. Whatever you do, don't short-change your sweetheart with a gift of inferior chocolate. Happy Valentine's Day!
Kirk Leins has been cooking his entire life. No stranger to professional kitchens, he currently devotes most of his time to cooking instruction, food writing, and producing television. Kirk also provides his services as a personal chef in and around the Los Angeles area. He has made several TV appearances on both the national and local level, and is the Executive Chef for YOU Magazine. Sign up for Kirk's free newsletter and cooking blog at www.NoTimeToCook.com.