Preparing a special dinner can be intimidating, but these make-ahead sweets will be hits no matter how much time or kitchen confidence you have.
Mark Weinberg for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Yossy Arefi.Credit…
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By Yossy Arefi
Yossy Arefi is the author of “Snacking Cakes: Simple Treats for Anytime Cravings” and “Sweeter Off the Vine: Fruit Desserts for Every Season.”
Chocolate is an easy choice for homemade Valentine’s Day desserts and this trio of recipes has something for everyone. Like relationships, they range in commitment: simple hot fudge sundaes get some help from store-bought ice cream; a dramatic soufflé cake takes about an hour but is big enough to serve a group; aspirational Earl Grey crème brûlée for two requires a little patience for a dish that feels luxurious.
Recipe: Peanut Butter Hot Fudge Sundaes
The simplest — a hot fudge sundae — is also a nostalgic crowd-pleaser. This silky and decadent hot fudge is flavored with a generous scoop of creamy peanut butter, which adds nuttiness and just enough salt to make this sundae feel a little bit grown up.
Hot fudge can impress without much work. It comes together in just a few minutes on the stovetop with ingredients you might keep around all of the time, and it’s so much more delicious than anything you can buy in a jar.
When it comes time to build your sundaes, use a clear serving dish, or even a drinking glass, so you can see the delicious layers of fudge, ice cream and whichever toppings you choose. Pick an ice cream flavor that will enhance but not overpower the sauce — vanilla or chocolate are both good bets. Don’t forget to put a little fudge at the bottom of the dish so every bite has warm chocolaty goodness. You can even keep the hot fudge in the refrigerator for a week or two and warm it in the microwave or over low heat just before serving.
Recipe: Chocolate Soufflé Cake
This glorious chocolate soufflé cake is for serious chocolate lovers. Packed with bittersweet chocolate, it also includes vanilla and espresso powder, both of which enhance chocolate’s flavor. You can also add a few tablespoons of rum or bourbon to cut through the richness in a very pleasing way.
Soufflé cake might sound a little bit intimidating, but the great thing about this soufflé is that you actually want it to fall. The batter relies on the power of whipped egg whites for a cake that rises high in the oven, only to slump back on itself as it cools, creating a light and crisp top and a molten center. In a little over an hour, you can have this restaurant-quality dessert in the comfort of your own home.
Recipe: Chocolate Earl Grey Crème Brûlée
Chocolate Earl Grey crème brûlée is the most advanced of these three, but a few techniques make this easy for anyone to tackle.
Perfectly sized to make two individual desserts, this luxurious chocolate custard is infused with Earl Grey tea. The primary flavoring in Earl Grey is bergamot, a citrus fruit with a floral brightness that is a welcome contrast to the bittersweet chocolate.
To ensure a silky texture, warm chocolate cream is slowly whisked into egg yolks to temper them, which prevents them from scrambling. The custard is then baked in a pan of hot water, known as a water bath or bain-marie, to gently set in their ramekins.
Wide shallow ramekins (sometimes sold as crème brûlée ramekins) allow the custard to cook evenly and offer lots of space for the caramelized sugar on top, but deeper ramekins work if that’s what you have around. To get that thin layer of burned sugar that is so satisfying to break with a spoon, you need a kitchen torch. You can pick one up at most kitchen shops or online, and it truly is the only way to create a perfect crackly top. Plus, it’s very fun and dramatic to use.
Whether you have a ton of time or experience in the kitchen or none at all, you can pick the recipe that suits you and follow the make-ahead tips to make the process even easier. These chocolate desserts fit any special occasion — even if that special occasion is hanging out on your couch in comfy pajamas.
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