Monday, February 8, 2010

Valentine's Day dessert

When considering the greeting card holiday known as 'Saint' Valentine's Day, we are bombarded by reds and pinks in every grocery aisle, on every checkstand magazine rack and there are giant advertisements crowding Starbucks, the post office, department stores and malls across America. I was recently in my grocery store of choice and I noticed they were advertising a meal for two that could be purchased for just $80. Even if you don't know how to boil water, this deli will provide the means for you to have a steak dinner with rich bernaise sauce, some decadent dessert, complete with an appetizer and vegetable. You also have the option to eat out. Any restaurant will pitch that what every woman wants is to be treated to her favorite meal, even if it's McDonalds.
Our tradition has been to eat out on our Anniversary, which happens to be very close to Valentine's Day, being February 4th, and to eat in on Valentine's Day. Thereby we avoid the Valentine's Day crowds and still have the best of both worlds. I do love eating out, and this year on our Anniversary we ate three delicious meals at three different restaurants (I will soon be writing about where you should eat if you are in Santa Cruz or Carmel by the Sea). On the other hand, I do love eating in. There is something so rewarding to making that special meal for that special someone. On every special occasion my husband requests essentially the same meal: Steak, green beans, potato. Cheesecake. So, I have found many different ways to make steak, and I make the same cheesecake, year after year.
Don't get me wrong. I love cheesecake. We had it in place of a traditional cake at our wedding because we both love it so much. But sometimes I just wish I could make something else. Something that demands a little more, something daring. Yet, we always end up at cheesecake. Not chocolate cheesecake, or pumpkin cheesecake, or cookie dough cheesecake, or even cheesecake with cherry topping. Just plain, old, plain cheesecake.
So, I have decided to begin a new tradition. In the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, I make many different desserts that sound delectable to me, for myself, as my Valentine's Day present to myself, and we have several different types of chocolate dessert for about three weeks straight. Like this Milk Chocolate Souffle. It is divine. Now, I believe dark chocolate has a very solid place in this world, but there is something about milk chocolate that speaks to me on a different level. Take this souffle, for example. It is not too grand for a weeknight meal. Just a few common ingredients: good quality milk chocolate, eggs and heavy cream, and in a short time you have a delicious dessert worth that little bit of extra effort.

When I saw this recipe, I decided I needed to try it. I have made souffles before, but this one just sounded delicious. It also had a nougat topping that sounded just wonderful. I made a few very minor alterations, as in, I omitted the toasted almonds and used extract instead of the called for liquor, and we loved it.
While it may not become a new tradition for Valentine's Day, it will definately be tucked away for an impressive do ahead dessert (it can be made up to six hours in advance and refrigerated).
Then, on Valentine's Day, we will still have cheesecake.


12 ounces high-quality milk chocolate (such as Lindt, Perugina, or Valrhona), chopped
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 large egg yolks
Pinch of salt
6 large egg whites, room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar

Nougat whip:

1 large egg white, room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

For Soufflés:

Special equipment: 8 3/4-cup soufflé dishes
 Butter eight 3/4-cup soufflé dishes; sprinkle with sugar, tilting cups to coat completely and tapping out any excess. Arrange prepared soufflé dishes on large baking sheet.
Combine chocolate and cream in large metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove bowl from over water. Stir egg yolks and salt into chocolate mixture. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add 2 tablespoons sugar, beating until semi-firm peaks form. Using rubber spatula, fold 1/4 of beaten egg whites into chocolate mixture to lighten. Fold remaining egg whites into chocolate mixture in 2 additions. Divide chocolate mixture among prepared soufflé dishes, filling dishes completely. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled.

For nougat whip:

Using electric mixer, beat egg white in medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add honey, beating until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes.
Combine cream and amaretto in another medium bowl and beat until thick and soft peaks form. Fold whipped cream mixture into meringue. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover and chill.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Bake soufflés on baking sheet until puffed and tops feel firm, about 16 minutes if at room temperature and about 18 minutes if chilled.
Serve soufflés immediately, passing nougat whip alongside.

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