"Chocolate is what everyone is looking for on Valentine's Day," says Karen DeMasco, pastry chef at Locanda Verde in New York.
She offers portions for two-sharing helps set the mood-and tries to go over-the-top for the holiday without veering from her characteristic haute-homey style. To that end, we cherry-picked a recipe from her cookbook, The Craft of Baking (Clarkson Potter), that seems likely to make couples happy come February.
Made with the best ingredients, her chocolate doughnuts with chocolate glaze are refined but also giddiness-inducing. You do need to fry them, but it really is not hard or messy; just take your time. I think you'll agree it's worth it. Also, you can eat them as you go. As DeMasco says, "There is nothing better than a doughnut right out of the fryer."
Marc Aumont, the French pastry chef at The Modern, also in New York, agrees that chocolate is a must on Valentine's Day, though every evening he offers chocolate to diners on a cart rolled through after dinner.
For this holiday the key is giving: "Every day we give away chocolates, but on Valentine's we make a special gift," Aumont says. This year, every table will receive a chocolate heart filled with caramelized pecans.
Similarly, his chocolate tart recipe has an element that can be personalized. In the restaurant, he tops each slice with a tuile flecked with bitter, crunchy cacao nibs. He recommends sprinkling with the beneficiary's favorite candy (chopped Heath Bar worked well for me).
The tart has a direct and deceptively simple appeal, but he packs it full of flavor and texture. The filling is chocolate custard ("cooked only until it doesn't move") topped with ganache, and the crust is cocoa-inflected and rich.
Asked what wine to drink with it, Aumont shrugs and suggests coffee, which warms the palate and helps melt the chocolate. The Modern's wine director, Belinda Chang, steps up with a Clos Chatart Banyuls 1999.
DeMasco is even less cooperative than Aumont. What to drink with her doughnuts? "Ice-cold milk. Cake and milk. What else would you serve?"
Chocolate Cake Doughnuts with Chocolate Crackle Glaze
Pastry chef Karen DeMasco, Locanda Verde
3 ounces best-quality bitter-sweet chocolate (70 percent cacao), finely chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 3⁄4 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄3 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
Nonstick cooking spray
For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
Peanut oil, for frying
Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Put the chocolate and the butter in a heatproof bowl and set it over (but not touching) the simmering water. Turn off the heat; stir occasionally until they have melted completely.
In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the flour, the granulated sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a second bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg and egg yolk. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour in the buttermilk mixture, and using a spatula, fold two or three times. Add the chocolate mixture and fold together until the dough is smooth and shiny. Sift the remaining 3⁄4 cup flour over the mixture, and fold to combine well.
Transfer the dough to a 12-inch-by-14-inch sheet of waxed paper. Place a second sheet of waxed paper on top, and roll out the dough between the paper into a 10-inch-by-12-inch oval that is about 3⁄4-inch thick. Set the dough, still between the sheets of waxed paper, on a baking sheet and freeze until it is firm enough to cut, about 30 minutes.
Remove the dough from the freezer and remove the top sheet of waxed paper. Dust the dough with flour, and replace the waxed paper. Flip the dough over; remove and discard the bottom sheet of waxed paper. Now the dough is loosened from the waxed paper and is easy to cut.
Lightly coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
Using a floured 3-inch round cutter or inverted drinking glass, cut out the doughnuts. Cut out the centers with a floured 1-inch cutter. Transfer the doughnuts to the prepared baking sheet. Re-roll the scraps and repeat to make a total of 10 doughnuts and 10 holes.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 day (if preparing the dough ahead, bring it to room temperature before frying).
Just before frying the doughnuts and holes, prepare the glaze: Whisk together the confectioners' sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt in a wide, shallow bowl. Add 2 tablespoons hot water and whisk until the glaze is smooth. (The glaze will be very thick. The warm doughnuts will melt the glaze as you dip them. Still, if the glaze begins to thicken too much as you are using it, adjust the consistency by adding a few more drops of hot water.)
In a large high-sided skillet or a wide pot, heat 2 inches of oil to 350° F. Working in batches of 3, fry the doughnuts, carefully turning them with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon halfway through, until cooked through, about 45 seconds per side. Test the first doughnut by breaking it open about 30 seconds after removing it from the oil, and if it is over- or underdone, adjust the time accordingly.
Transfer the doughnuts to paper towels to drain, and then immediately dip one side of each doughnut into the glaze. Transfer them to a rack, glaze side up, and let sit until the glaze sets, about 3 minutes.
Fry the doughnut holes for 35 seconds per batch, then drain and dip in the glaze.
Serve the doughnuts warm or at room temperature on the day they are fried.
Makes 10 doughnuts.
Pastry chef Marc Aumont, The Modern
For the crust:
1 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
1 ounce unsweetened cocoa powder
1⁄2 cup confectioners' sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 egg yolks
1⁄2 tablespoon vanilla paste
In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt. Pulse to blend. Add the butter and pulse 8 to 10 times, until the butter pieces are about the size of peas.
With the machine running, add the egg yolks and process, in short bursts, until just crumbly—don't overwork it!
Gather the dough together and shape it into a rough square. Pat it down to compress it slightly, and wrap in plastic. Chill until firm, at least 30 minutes. The dough can remain in the refrigerator for 3 days.
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven the 325° F. Roll the dough out to 1⁄4-inch thickness and place in a lightly sprayed 10-inch tart pan. Line the shell with parchment paper and fill with dried beans. Prebake for 15 minutes at 325° F. Remove from oven and cool, then remove beans and paper (the beans may be reused in this manner, but should not be eaten).
For the custard:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla powder
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate (58 percent to 64 percent cacao), chopped
Preheat the oven to 325° F.
Pour cream, milk, sugar and vanilla into a saucepan, and place over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, and heat until the mixture begins to simmer. Remove from heat.
Place yolks in a large bowl and slowly whisk in the hot cream mixture, about 2 tablespoons at a time (to temper the eggs), until you have added about a half-cup of cream to the yolks. Pour in the remaining cream, and whisk until smooth.
Strain the mixture over the chocolate, and set aside for 5 minutes. Then stir the mixture until the chocolate is smooth and evenly distributed.
Pour into the prebaked tart shell, and bake in preheated oven until the center is just set, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 45 minutes, then place into the freezer, chilling until solid (about 6 hours).
For the Ganache:
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1⁄4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate (58 percent to 64 percent cacao), roughly chopped
In a saucepan over medium heat, mix milk, heavy cream and sugar, then temper in yolks until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and strain.
Add the chocolate and let stand, without stirring, for 1 minute to allow the chocolate to melt. Whisk just until combined, then spread an even layer on top of the frozen tart.
Chill until the chocolate is firm. The tart can be frozen if wrapped well. Pieces can be cut with a hot knife, then the tart should be brought to room temperature (it will take about 20 minutes) before eating.
Makes one 10-inch tart.
Owen Dugan is features editor of Wine Spectator.