Valentine’s Day is all about focus, bringing an intimate attention to every little thing: the card, the flowers, the gazes, the meal.
Individual desserts are made for such moments.
Slices of pie, slabs of cake — they’re all delicious, but suggest a crowd. When it comes to romance, a singular serving of sweetness says, “I made this just for you.”
Cue the swoon.
We’ve got two voluptuously singular desserts in mind: chocolate soufflés and cream puffs.
If you’re looking for drama, consider the soufflés, which transform a deeply devilish chocolate flavor into an almost ethereal spoonful of heaven. The key to success is patience and a gentle touch in their assembly. The fact that the prep can be accomplished a few hours ahead of time is a gift.
All that’s left for you to do is disappear to pop them in the oven, build a little anticipation, then reappear with a clear expression of love.
Cream puffs are a little more playful, made from a classic dough called pâte à choux. “Choux” is a French word for cabbages, which is what the puffs resemble.
Too chatty? There’s a way to put a stop to the talk; one of them involves eating cream puffs.
This dessert also is made ahead of time, and takes to a wide variety of fillings. (This is where you show you’ve been paying attention to personal details.)
Split and fill them with a favorite flavor of ice cream or custard, or just go simple and luxurious with sweetened whipped cream and a spill of fresh fruit.
In either case, your sweetheart gets a dessert all to themselves.
And, need we add, you do, too.
INDIVIDUAL CHOCOLATE SOUFFLÉS
Note: Quality chocolate is important; look for bittersweet in the 70 percent cacao range. The recipe is for two 8-ounce servings, but you also can make four smaller servings with 4-ounce baking dishes. Check smaller soufflés after 16 minutes. (Extra soufflés will fall, but still are delicious, chilled, the next day.) From Kim Ode.
• 1 to 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened, for molds
• 1 to 2 tbsp. sugar, for molds
• 2 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate, melted (1/2 c. if using chips or discs)
• 1/2 tsp. vanilla
• Optional add-ins (choose one): 1/4 tsp. cinnamon or 1/2 tsp. espresso powder or 1 tbsp. rum (or other liqueur)
• 2 eggs, room temperature, separated
• Pinch of salt
• 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
• 1/4 c. plus 1 tbsp. sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (or wait until later; see below).
Using your fingers, thoroughly coat 2 (6- to 8-ounce) baking dishes (ramekins, coffee mugs, anything deep and straight-sided) with butter. Pour 1 tablespoon sugar into 1 dish, then cover with plastic wrap. Shake gently to generously coat all surfaces. Pour remaining sugar into second dish and repeat, adding more sugar if necessary.
Melt the chocolate in a medium metal bowl set over a small pot of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted. Stir in vanilla and, if desired, an optional flavoring (cinnamon, espresso powder, rum or liqueur). Keep warm.
In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until the whites hold soft peaks when the beaters are turned off and lifted. Continue to beat on high while gradually adding 1 tablespoon of sugar until the whites hold stiff peaks and look glossy. Don’t overbeat. Set aside.
In a small bowl, with the same beaters, beat together the egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar on high speed until light-colored, thick and almost like frosting. This may take up to 5 minutes. With a spatula, gently fold egg mixture into the melted chocolate until few streaks remain (but a few are OK.)
Stir a big dollop of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then gently fold in the remaining whites with a spatula, lifting from the bottom and folding over the top until combined.
Divide batter evenly between the prepared dishes. You can bake them immediately, or cover with plastic wrap and hold in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours. When ready to bake, place the dishes on a baking sheet and place in the preheated oven for 18 minutes for a creamy center, 20 minutes for a firmer soufflé. Serve immediately with whipped cream, ice cream or custard sauce and garnish with fresh berries.
CREAM PUFFS (PÂTE À CHOUX)
Makes 8 large puffs, more if smaller.
Note: The filling is for 4 puffs — 2 each for a romantic dessert. You can also fill puffs with your favorite flavor of ice cream or custard. Once completely cooled, extra cream puffs may be frozen in freezer bags for up to one month. From Kim Ode.
• 4 eggs
• 1 c. water
• 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
• 1/8 tsp. vanilla
• 1 c. flour (preferably bread flour but all-purpose will work)
• 1 c. heavy cream
• 1 tbsp. powdered sugar
• 1/2 c. fresh raspberries
• Powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. If you have a baking or pizza stone, place that on the lowest rack. (It will help make the pastries puff.)
Warm eggs in a bowl of hot tap water.
In medium saucepan, combine 1 cup water, butter, salt and granulated sugar, and bring to a full boil. Remove from heat, add vanilla, then add flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon to quickly form a ball.
Return the pan to medium heat and continue stirring, pressing the dough against the side of the pan and gathering it up into a ball. This dries out the dough so that it can better absorb the eggs. Stir constantly, not letting the dough scorch, for 1 to 2 minutes.
Place dough in bowl of stand mixer and set aside.
In small bowl, lightly beat 3 of the warmed eggs. Separate the fourth egg, placing the white in a small dish and beating lightly. Save or discard the yolk.
With the mixer on low, gradually add the 3 beaten whole eggs in 3 increments, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more. Increase mixer speed to medium until eggs are thoroughly incorporated. Stop mixer and test the dough by placing a spoonful on a plate; it should be supple enough to hold its shape, but not “pasty.” If it’s still stiff, beat in the egg white. If it looks very soft, proceed to shaping the puffs.
On a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or coated with cooking spray, place large spoonfuls of dough at least 2 inches apart. You should end up with about 8 dollops for large puffs.
Using a plant spritzer (a clean one!), lightly spray each puff once with water. This will keep them moist longer so they’ll puff as much as possible before firming up.
Place baking sheet directly on the pizza stone or on bottom rack. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees. Bake 25 minutes. Do not open the oven door, or the puffs may collapse. After 25 minutes, remove pan from oven and pierce each puff with a small knife to allow any steam to escape and to help the puffs bake dry. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
To make the filling: Just before serving, whip cream with 1 tablespoon powdered sugar until it holds a soft peak. Reserving a few whole raspberries for garnish, lightly crush the rest with a fork, then fold into the whipped cream. Cut puffs in half horizontally with a serrated knife, fill bottom half with cream and replace top. Sift with powdered sugar and garnish with remaining raspberries.