Research tells us that chocolate is the top flavor for desserts. According to Technomic's Dessert Consumer Trend Report (August 2010), chocolate is found in 27.9% of all limited-service menu descriptions for dessert and appears as a flavor in 35.7% of full-service menu descriptions for dessert. On Valentine's Day, chocolate is elevated to hero status. On this day, chocolate is quintessential, marking romance, indulgence and the sweeter side of life in one perfect celebration. And for chefs, chocolate desserts are a sure way to tempt and delight diners.
Distinguishing chocolate-dessert menus from the competition can be tricky—chefs should look beyond chocolate flourless cakes and molten lava cakes…but not too far beyond. Indeed, Valentine's Day requires a tender balance between special occasion and familial. Between extraordinary and familiar. We charged our chefs with that very task, even pitting one against the other for the Best Valentine's Day Dessert (see Which Dessert Reigns Supreme below). Read on for romantic chocolate-dessert recipes inspired by Cupid's muse itself—chocolate.
Which Dessert Reigns Supreme?
We challenged two certified master bakers, both renowned for pastries, to develop special-occasion recipes with chocolate. In one corner: Patty Mitchell, senior executive chef for Kraft Foodservice. In the other corner: Peter Greweling, consulting chef for Kraft Foodservice. The challenge? Create a unique, memorable chocolate dessert perfect for Valentine's Day and other special occasions.
Molten Chocolate Cheesecake
Chef Mitchell spent more than a week creating the perfect formula for this recipe. "I had to get the center element to flow nicely without overheating the cheesecake exterior," she says. But the result was worth the trial and error. "Molten chocolate cakes are not new, but they're huge on menus," says Chef Mitchell. "I wanted to reinvent the molten cake—without taking away what makes it so wonderful—the flowing chocolate in the middle. Diners know and love molten cakes, but this one will add the wow factor, too." Our internal research backs up their popularity: Of all recipes searched for on the Kraft retail site, molten chocolate cake had the highest recipe views – with a whopping 312,747 (Kraftrecipes.com - Q1, 2010).
To update this favorite dessert, she replaces the cake batter with cheesecake batter. She makes a luscious chocolate cheesecake by combining room temperature Philadelphia Cream Cheese with sugar and cornstarch (to prevent clumping). "Beat the cream cheese first on a lower speed, then add the sugar slowly while still beating," she says. Separately, she mixes eggs, egg yolks and then vanilla. She melts Baker's Semi-Sweet Chocolate with heavy cream, adding it slowly to the wet ingredients, then incorporates the batter into the dry ingredients. "When melting the chocolate, make sure it doesn't go above 115 degrees," says Chef Mitchell.
She makes the ganache filling with Baker's Semi-Sweet Chocolate, heavy cream, corn syrup, water and butter, scooping them into little balls and freezing until final prep.
To assemble, Chef Mitchell lays down an Oreo Cookie crust in an individual ring mold, adds the chocolate-cheesecake batter, then pushes a ganache ball to the bottom of the batter. "Because we can't do a water bath on this, I put a pan of hot water on the bottom rack of the oven," she says. "The moist heat will stop the cheesecake from cracking or buckling." Once baked and chilled, for service, she reheats the individual cheesecake in a microwave briefly, making the chocolate ganache soft and warm. "When I develop a dessert recipe for Valentine's Day or for other special occasions, I'm trying to hit both indulgent and familiar," says Chef Mitchell. "I want something familiar and cozy, not overcomplicated."
Decadent Cherry Bombe
Peter Greweling answered the challenge with a delicious interpretation of the classic cherry bombe. "I wanted a warm dessert for February, and soft fillings are universally liked," he says. Of course, cheesecake and cherries are a classic combination. "I added depth to the cherries by making a filling laced with brandy and enriched with butter," he says. "And remember: cheesecake is essentially a custard, which is such a sensual food. Serving it warm elevates that experience."
He makes both a chocolate sponge cake and a New York-style cheesecake, relying on Philadelphia Cream Cheese to give him a custardy texture for the cheesecake. He cuts out individual, thin circles of the sponge cake to fit the ramekins. Chef Greweling makes the cherry-bombe filling by simmering cherries with sugar, nutmeg, a cinnamon stick, white wine and lemon juice. He then slowly pours a slurry of cornstarch and water to thicken. Once the mixture boils, he removes it from the heat and stirs in butter, finishing with brandy. The cake sits at the bottom of the ramekin with the cherry-bombe filling over it, leaving a ½-inch for the cheesecake. He places the cheesecake atop the sauce with the graham-cracker crust facing out.
After refrigerating overnight, this individual dessert is ready for service. To order, Chef Greweling heats the ramekin in a microwave, and turns it out onto the plate, decorating the plate with chocolate sauce and perhaps a flourish of whipped cream. "The trick is to not over-bake the cheesecake," he says. "It should set like a custard, not rise like a cake."