A day filled with hearts, cakes, sweets and lotsa love

February 11, 2014 

I take great risk in admitting that Valentine's Day is my least favorite holiday. Actually, I should refer to it as a celebration or observance rather than an official holiday. I guess as a kid, it was kind of fun to shop for (or make) valentine cards for classmates, as I enjoyed any type of art or craft at school. Now I look around and see that the commercialism has taken over to make Valentine's Day another retail event. I will say that I am grateful for at least one thing the stores put out for sale at this time of year — those colorful, pastel conversation hearts. Some people say they are about as appetizing as toothpaste, and maybe they're right, but for some weird reason, I like most of them (not all brands).

No matter if you are a Valentine's Day grinch like me or if you absolutely love February 14, we can all agree that we appreciate good food and festivities. Be generous with hugs and make some delicious treats to share with those you love. Celebrate love and life each and every day.

Chocolate caramel cracker bars

From Taste of Home recipe archives.

3/4 cup butter, cubed

1 teaspoon butter

34 Club crackers (2 1/2-by-1-inch)

1 can (14-oz.) sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 cup (6-oz.) semisweet chocolate chips

1. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with foil and grease the foil with 1 teaspoon butter. Arrange a single layer of crackers in the pan.

2. In a large saucepan, combine the milk, brown sugar, corn syrup and remaining butter. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to maintain a low boil; cook and stir for 7 minutes. Remove from the heat. Evenly spread a third of the mixture over the crackers. Repeat cracker and caramel layers twice.

3. Immediately sprinkle chocolate chips over caramel; let stand 3 to 5 minutes or until glossy. Spread over top. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or until chocolate is set. Using foil, lift layers out of pan; cut into 3-by1-inch bars. Makes about 27 bars.

Irish cream creme brulee

2 cups heavy cream

1/3 cup sugar

6 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons Irish cream liqueur

Superfine sugar, as needed

1. Preheat oven to 300. Place 6 ramekins on a towel set in a roasting pan at least 3 inches deep.

2. Stir together cream and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, and cook until very hot, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Whisk together egg yolks, vanilla, and Irish cream until combined. Slowly add 1/3 of the hot cream, whisking it in 2 tablespoons at a time until incorporated. Once you have incorporated 1/3 of the cream, you can stir in the remaining hot cream without fear of the mixture curdling.

3. Pour custard into the ramekins, then fill roasting pan with boiling hot water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in preheated oven until set, 50 to 60 minutes.

4. Once the custard has set, place ramekins on a wire rack, and allow to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Cover, and refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours. Custards may remain refrigerated until ready to serve.

5. Uncover the custards, and sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of superfine sugar onto each. Gently shake the custards so the sugar coats the entire top surface, then tip the custards to a 45 degree angle and shake off excess sugar.

6. Using a small hand torch, melt the sugar by making short passes over top of the custards with the flame not quite touching. Continue melting the sugar until it turns deep brown. Once the sugar has melted and turned to caramel, the cold custard underneath will harden the sugar into a crispy crust. Serve immediately. Alternatively, the sugar-dusted custards may be browned underneath the broiler in the oven. Makes 6 servings.

Raspberry white chocolate buttercream cupcakes

1 package (18.25-oz.) vanilla cake mix

1 cup water

1/3 cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

8 ounces fresh raspberries

1 tablespoon water

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 cup water

2 cups white chocolate chips

1 cup butter

5 cups confectioners' sugar

2 tablespoons milk, or as needed

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease 24 muffin cups or line with paper liners.

2. Mix together vanilla cake mix, 1 cup water, vegetable oil and eggs in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer at low speed until cake mix is moist. Raise mixer speed to medium and beat until batter is smooth, 2 minutes. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling them about 2/3 full. Bake in preheated oven until cupcakes are very lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18 to 23 minutes. Cool cupcakes in the pans for 5 minutes; transfer cupcakes to cooling rack to finish cooling.

3. Place raspberries, 1 tablespoon water and white sugar in a blender and pulse several times to chop raspberries; blend until pureed, about 30 seconds.

4. Whisk cornstarch with 1/4 cup water until thoroughly combined; pour mixture into the raspberry mixture in the blender and blend again until smooth. Pour raspberry mixture into a saucepan and simmer over low heat until thickened, about 5 minutes. Let the raspberry filling cool.

5. Cut a core out of each cupcake about 1 1/2 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. Spoon about 2 teaspoons raspberry filling into each cupcake.

6. Place white chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and heat in 30-second intervals until chips begin to melt, about 1 minute. Stir and repeat, heating chips about 10 seconds at a time, until thoroughly melted. Stir until chocolate is smooth and no more lumps remain.

7. Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed in a mixing bowl until fluffy. Beat in half the confectioners' sugar, melted white chocolate chips, and milk until mixture is smooth and creamy. Slowly beat in remaining confectioners sugar until smooth; if frosting is too stiff, beat in more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time.

8. Spread or pipe the white chocolate frosting over the cupcakes to cover the raspberry filling; drizzle or pipe any remaining raspberry filling over cupcakes. Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes.

Flourless dark chocolate cake

4 eggs, separated

8 ounces 53 percent cacao dark baking chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons butter, cubed

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 jar (2 1/2-oz.) strained prunes baby food

1 teaspoon dark baking cocoa

1/2 teaspoon confectioners' sugar

1. Place egg whites in a small bowl; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt chocolate and butter over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat; cool slightly. Coat a 9-in. springform pan with cooking spray. Place pan on a baking sheet; set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, beat egg yolks on high speed for 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Gradually add 1/3 cup sugar and vanilla, beating until thick and lemon-colored. Beat in baby food and chocolate mixture.

3. Beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in remaining sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, on high until stiff glossy peaks form; fold into batter.

4. Pour into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with moist crumbs. Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; remove sides of pan. Cool completely. Sprinkle with cocoa and confectioners' sugar. Refrigerate leftovers. Makes 12 servings.

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