wooden spoon

Whether you want to woo, wow or wed your significant other, next week is the time. Thursday is Valentine’s Day and let’s help love bloom.

Remember that old saying, “sweets for the sweets”? I have just the right recipes. Here are two that will surely melt the most reluctant heart, both easy to make and delicious.

One, a candy with dark chocolate, nuts and a touch of salt to set off the richness. What’s not to like? My other suggestion for hitting the mark is an old favorite, a velvety rich crème brȗleè that’s relatively easy to make.

CHOCOLATE CARAMEL NUT KISSES

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1-1/3 cups salted mixed nuts

nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray

8 ounces high quality dark chocolate, chopped

Maldon or other flaky sea salt

In a heavy medium saucepan, stir sugar and water over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves, occasionally brushing down pan sides with a wet pastry brush to remove any sugar crystals. Boil, without stirring, brushing down sides and swirling pan occasionally to ensure even cooking, for about eight minutes or until mixture begins to turn golden brown. Remove from heat and mix in cream. Caramel will bubble vigorously, then thicken and cool, about 15 to 20 minutes. Toss nuts with slightly cooled caramel. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Using two spoons, drop nut/caramel mixture onto one sheet, forming about 20 mounds. Refrigerate for 15 minutes or until clusters are cold and caramel becomes firm but is still sticky. Meanwhile, place chocolate in a small bowl set over a small saucepan of barely simmering water and slowly melt, stirring often. Remove and using a small metal spatula lift one cluster and drop into chocolate to coat completely. Using a fork, immediately lift cluster and gently shake excess chocolate back into bowl. Using a second fork as an aid, place cluster on second baking sheet and sprinkle each lightly with flaked salt. Repeat with remaining clusters, melted chocolate and salt. Refrigerate for 10 minutes or just until chocolate is cold and set.

NOTE: This can be prepared up to two days ahead and stored in an airtight container at a cool temperature.

CRÈME BRÛLÉE

2 cups whipping cream

5 tablespoons sugar

1/2 vanilla bean, split

small pinch salt

4 egg yolks

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. In a small pan, bring cream, two tablespoons sugar, vanilla bean and salt just to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, set aside to cool and scrape seeds from vanilla pod into cream. Return pod to cream and cool some more. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk egg yolks with one tablespoon sugar until dissolved. Slowly whisk in cooled cream. If not cool, yolks will scramble. Strain through fine sieve and discard vanilla pod. Divide custard between four shallow baking dishes, about one half cup each, place in a baking pan and then into oven. Pour enough cold water into pan to come about halfway up sides of dishes. Bake until custards are set, about 30 to 35 minutes. Check by inserting knife into center. If blade comes out clean, custard is done. If not, cook two or three minutes more and check again. When done, remove from oven and set aside to cool. Cover cooled custard with plastic wrap. Chill in refrigerator for at least four hours or overnight. Before serving make sure tops are dry, sprinkle evenly with remaining sugar and use a kitchen torch to caramelize. Hold torch at an angle, flame should hardly touch surface, to brown sugar.

P.S. — you can also brown sugar under a preheated broiler. Turn dishes to avoid hot or burned spots.

Santa Ynez Valley resident Elaine Revelle can be reached at thewoodenspoon@juno.com.

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