Executive pastry chef Jessica Craig is the creative mind behind the sweet treats, or dolci, that grace L'Artusi's Italian-inspired menu in New York City's West Village.
But long before she settled into the dessert zone of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner, Craig was earning broader degrees in the general culinary arts and hospitality management from the New York Institute of Technology.
"My culinary background definitely plays into the mantra of L'Artusi in the fact that we do make sure that we have a balance in all of our dessert dishes," says Craig, who also oversees pastry for sister restaurants Dell'anima and Anfora. "It helps me to be a bit more creative; I definitely use herbs and ingredients that maybe your typical pastry chef wouldn't use.” Her approach is evident in the savory qualities found in menu staples like L'Artusi's olive oil cake.
For Valentine's Day, Craig turns to a more classic dessert “that's easy to make, accessible, fun and sexy"—her recipe for chocolate-raspberry truffles.
Since quality raspberries are easier to find in the summer, Craig suggests using either raspberry preserves (a combination of juice, fruit and seeds) or jam (only the fruit juice), depending on your taste. Craig prefers the preserves.
Choosing the chocolate is also up to you. "The brand of chocolate doesn't matter as long as it's a chocolate that you enjoy," she says.
When it comes to making the ganache, Craig recommends carving out time to prepare it in advance—if not the day before, then at least six hours ahead so it has time to set. "Then, once it sets, the rest is easy,'' she says. To finish the truffles, she recommends using coating chocolate (Ghirardelli, among others, offers the product) for a shell with shine and snap. However, she notes, if you can't find that, you can just use additional bittersweet chocolate, as the truffles are rolled in cocoa, which will cover any streaks or dullness to the finish.
With a relatively easy dessert, why not put some extra creativity into the wine pairings? L'Artusi's wine director, Anncherie Saludo, picks two out-of-the-ordinary Italian selections to pair with the truffles.
Her first choice is a Brachetto, an aromatic red grape grown in the Piedmont region. Though it's better known as a lightly sparkling, lightly sweet wine full of berry flavors, she turns instead to a still version made from late-harvested, raisined grapes—the 2013 Forteto della Luja Piemonte Brachetto Passito Pian dei Sogni—as a non-fortified alternative to the classic pairing of chocolate and Port. She describes it as packed with candied cherry notes and a bit more restrained in sweetness. With the dark chocolate, "This could play really well and be fun … since Brachetto is a grape that maybe a lot of people haven't heard of or maybe haven't given much attention to," Saludo said.
For a different approach to the pairing, Saludo goes with a dry red from the Veneto in northern Italy. The 2014 Giuseppe Quintarelli Primofiore is a blend of Corvina, Corvinone, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, with the Cabernet grapes being partially dried, a traditional technique in the region to concentrate the flavors. The wine's lush, dark fruit flavors, pepper and herb notes, and rich palate, she says, "will meld well with the nuanced bitterness of the chocolate, yet will not overwhelm the tart raspberry-truffle filling."
Below, Wine Spectator shares recently rated selections of sweeter-style and Veneto reds to spoil your loved one with this Valentine's Day.
1. Put the pieces of bittersweet chocolate and the salt in a heatproof bowl. Place the raspberry preserves or jam in a heavy-bottomed pot with the heavy cream. Whisk them together and allow to come to a simmer. Allow the liquid to bubble for a minute before pouring the mixture over the chocolate to melt it.
2. If desired, add framboise or brandy to the bowl. Whisk together the chocolate and the cream mixture, smoothing out any lumps.
3. Transfer the mixture to an appropriately sized container and put into the fridge for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight, to allow the chocolate-raspberry mixture to cool and set. To speed up this process, put the mixture in the freezer for 2 to 3 hours, but make sure to transfer it to the refrigerator after that time or you'll have a solid block of chocolate on your hands.
4. Once your chocolate mixture has cooled and become firm, put your coating chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat the chocolate in 30- to 45-second intervals, stirring in between, until the chocolate is mostly melted. If there are only a few lumps left, simply stir until those lumps are melted and smooth.
5. Take the chocolate-raspberry mixture out of the fridge and scoop out small (about a 1/2- to 3/4-inch-diameter) balls, placing them on a sheet tray lined with wax or parchment paper. Roll the scoops between your hands to smooth the edges and create nice spheres. Chill the scoops if they seem to be getting warm as you work.
6. Once your scoops are prepared and chilled completely, dip them in the melted coating chocolate one at a time and return them to the tray. Once they are all dipped, roll them in a bowl lined with the cocoa powder. Chill until ready to consume. Makes 24 to 36 truffles.
Note: The following lists are selections of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More options can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
QUINTA DO CRASTO Late Bottled Port 2013
Solid, with dark chocolate, warm plum and blackberry cobbler flavors woven together, backed by a flash of roasted vanilla on the fleshy finish. Drink now. 4,100 cases made. From Portugal.
ICARDI Brachetto Piemonte Surì Vigin 2016
Lightly sweet and candied, with tangy acidity balancing the easy-drinking profile of cherry pie, baking spices and candied orange zest. Drink now. 2,500 cases made. From Italy.
MARENCO Brachetto d'Acqui Pineto 2017
A balanced Brachetto that's just off-dry, with expressive notes of candied cherry and raspberry fruit, milk chocolate shavings and mandarin orange peel, and hints of herb and spice on the lightly tangy finish. Drink now. 1,666 cases made. From Italy.
CLOS FIGUERAS Priorat Sweet 2017
Candied flavors of kirsch and maraschino cherry are bright and sweet in this lively red. Firm tannins and citrusy acidity give it a red-wine structure. Expressive, distinctive. Garnacha. Drink now. 91 cases made. From Spain.
MORINI Vino da Tavola-Emilia-Romagna Mood Wine Sweet On You Red NV
Floral and well-spiced, with a ripe profile of steeped and candied black cherry and raspberry fruit. Medium-bodied and balanced overall, with a chewy finish. Sangiovese with Syrah. Drink now. 10,000 cases made. From Italy.
JAM JAR Shiraz Western Cape Sweet 2017
An off-dry style, with a friendly core of cherry and strawberry jam notes that have just enough energy to stay honest on the finish. Serve with a light chill alongside heavily sauced barbecue. Drink now. 88,889 cases made. From South Africa.
MICHELE CASTELLANI Valpolicella Classico Superiore San Michele Ripasso 2016
This fresh, harmonious red shows a lovely, creamy mix of crushed black cherry, subtle spice and mineral, leather and smoke. Medium-bodied and elegant, with supple tannins firming the finish. Drink now through 2023. 5,000 cases made.
TOMMASI Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso 2015
A well-balanced, medium-bodied red, with a fresh mix of crushed cherry, toasted spice and tobacco flavors underscored by iron and mineral notes. Elegant, with supple tannins firming the finish. Drink now through 2025. 2,300 cases imported.
ZENATO Valpolicella Superiore Ripassa 2015
This elegant red is well-balanced, layering light, creamy tannins and flavors of plumped cherry, anise and orange peel in a medium-bodied frame. A hint of graphite-laced mineral lingers on the finish. Drink now through 2024. 35,000 cases made.
BRIGALDARA Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2015
A well-knit, medium-bodied red, with light, supple tannins layered with a pleasing mix of baked plum, crushed black cherry, and hints of cured tobacco and star anise. Drink now through 2021. 4,500 cases made.