“Who, being loved, is poor?” ~Oscar Wilde
Celebrating St. Valentine’s Day is a familiar and widely recognized holiday in America, but one with rather vague origins. The holiday as we know it is primarily a western traditional, although many other global cultures have occasions in which romantic love is celebrated. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes at least three different Saints named Valentine, and stories and legends abound. Apparently, greetings, love messages and other gifts (especially chocolates, flowers and jewelry) have been exchanged in Great Britain and the US for some 300 hundred years. Our modern Valentine customs date from the 1840’s, when it was basically reinvented as a marketing ploy to sell greeting cards. With the introduction of mass produced cards around 1900, our card exchanging habits were permanently established. Permanently established to the tune of 188 million Valentine cards exchanged annually!
Whenever I begin to consider writing about a holiday, regardless of its broader cultural or social implications, I usually think back to my past and first conjure up whatever personal experiences stand out in my mind. With Valentine’s Day, I am instantly reminded of my Baby Boomer elementary school days. Middle class school children in those days tended to exchange small inexpensive cards with not only their teacher but with every classmate as well. The other standout memory has to be the Necco Sweetheart candies stamped with those little messages of endearment. We would also enjoy hearing from readers sharing memories of their traditions.
My candy choices have been upgraded these days with the superb European selections offered by Avanti Savoia. Luscious Pure Origin and Grand Crus from both Olivier and Castagna are revelations for real chocolate lovers. Samplers of Olivier with selections of 5, 7 or 8 different bars are the fast tract to understanding the great chocolates. Also, for a limited time an elegant assortment of French Chocolate Bonbons are available in the Olivier Signature Boxes in both 9 ounce and 13.2 ounce sizes.
For those that choose to express their love with a culinary creation, we offer a heart shaped Double Chocolate Baked Alaska which although dramatic in its presentation is really, really easy to prepare. There are much more complicated versions, but our recipe is a good starting place for anyone and can be made ahead, except for the final baking.
Double Chocolate Baked Alaska
Preparation time: 1 hour using pre-baked cake layer
Servings: 2 with leftovers (up to 6 persons)
1 layer of Devil’s Food Cake mix baked in a 9 inch heart shape cake pan (the heart shape is great for Valentine’s Day but any shaped layer of cake will do just fine)
About 1 quart of Blue Bell Triple Chocolate or other rich, dark chocolate ice cream, slightly softened
6 egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
¾ cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1. Cover a piece of heavy cardboard (a couple of inches wider than the cake) with aluminum foil to use as a base.
2. Put cake layer on base and cover the top of the cake with a thick layer of softened ice cream. Place in freezer immediately and allow it to freeze solid.
3. Beat egg whites with the pinch of Cream of Tartar until they begin to stiffen; add sugar gradually while still beating. Add vanilla and beat until stiff peaks form.
4. Remove cake/ice cream from freezer and cover with ¾ of the meringue. (Optional) Place remaining meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip and decorate top surface and sides of cake.
5. Place un-baked Alaska back in freezer uncovered until ready to bake. Leave in freezer at least 2 or 3 hours although it can stay over night if it is more convenient.
6. Bake on a baking sheet in a very hot oven (450 degrees) for about 5 minutes or until the meringue starts to brown. Remove Baked Alaska on its base from baking sheet and place on a nice serving platter; serve immediately.
WINE SUGESTION: Rinaldi “Bug Juice”, Moscato D’Asti 2006