A sweet kiss of a cake for Valentine's Day

Entertaining

Chocolate treat, rich and fudgy, will win their hearts

Entertaining

February 02, 2003|By Betty Rosbottom | By Betty Rosbottom,Special to the Sun

Although I love to cook for each of the year's holidays, Valentine's Day is the one I enjoy most. It's a stress-free celebration because I never fuss with dinner, but rather concentrate my efforts on preparing a single unique dessert. After dining out on Feb. 14, we often return home to indulge in a sweet treat and coffee with friends.

A bona fide chocoholic, I delight in choosing chocolate confections to make for Cupid's Day. Plump chocolate truffles, chocolate-glazed mini-cupcakes, creamy cocoa tarts and cherry- almond brownies have been selections I have created for seasons past.

This year, however, I found inspiration in Dorie Greenspan's new cookbook, Paris Sweets (Broadway Books). A Franco-phile and a chocolate lover like me, my friend spent months searching for the best desserts from the city's patisseries and chocolate makers. As I turned through the pages of the book, a recipe from a famous chocolate shop, La Maison du Chocolat, caught my eye. It was for Grandmother's Creamy Choco-late Cake, which the author described as an uncomplicated but memorable rich, fudge-like cake. After I discovered that the dish called for only five ingredients, which were simply stirred together in a saucepan, I was sold.

The dark chocolate cake, prepared with generous measures of bittersweet chocolate and butter, a small amount of flour plus sugar and eggs, is baked in a water bath, then cooled and refrigerated until firm. This single-layer petit gateau is delicious sliced and served unadorned, but can also be embellished with a touch of whipped cream or creme fraiche or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The Parisian dessert, which keeps for two days in the refrigerator, can be made well ahead of this beloved day and is guaranteed to win the heart of your valentine.

Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.

Grandmother's Creamy Chocolate Cake

Makes 10 servings

1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

3/4 cup sugar

4 large eggs

1/4 cup flour

whipped cream, creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream, optional (see Note)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter 1 (8-inch) square pan and line with aluminum foil. Have ready a larger pan that can hold the cake pan and water (to make a water bath).

Place butter in heavy, medium saucepan, then add chocolate and sugar. Place pan over medium-low heat and, stirring almost constantly, heat until butter, chocolate and sugar are melted and well blended. Remove pan from heat and set it on counter for 3 minutes.

Whisk in eggs one at a time. Sift flour over mixture and stir it in. Tap saucepan on counter to deflate any air bubbles, and pour batter into prepared pan. Place cake pan into larger pan, fill larger pan with enough hot water to come halfway up sides of cake pan, and place in oven.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until cake is set on top and knife inserted in center comes out streaky but not wet. Lift cake pan out of water bath and place on wire rack to cool to room temperature. Chill cake at least 1 hour before unmolding.

When cake is cold, place serving platter over top and gently turn it over. Lift off pan and carefully remove foil. Cake is meant to be served upside down, with its sleeker side facing the world. (Cake can be prepared 2 days ahead. Keep covered and refrigerated.) Serve cake cold or at room temperature with scoop of whipped cream.

-- Adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan, Broadway Books.

Note: If you want to serve cake with creme fraiche and cannot find any in your local market, this recipe works well. Whisk together 1 cup whipping cream and 1/3 cup sour cream in medium nonreactive bowl. Let stand at warm room temperature 8 hours or overnight until thickened. Cover and refrigerate. Creme fraiche can be refrigerated up to 1 week.

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