Set down dessert plates loaded with strawberry cheesecake and watch the smiles begin.
February is often best known for the Valentine’s Day holiday, and if I remember correctly, I started seeing a lot of red and pink decorations and gifts in retail stores back in December.
I must admit by the time February rolls around, I am a little bit weary of holidays that demand a lot of fuss and hoopla, so I don’t go to any great lengths to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Having said that, I do like to make at least one treat, because how can I pass up the chance to indulge in a dessert or sweet treat?
Here are a few recipes for you to consider. And as usual for wintertime, stay warm, stay safe.
Red-Hot molded hearts
1/4 cup red-hot cinnamon candies
1 cup boiling water
1 package (3 ounces) strawberry gelatin
2 1/2 cups applesauce
1. In a bowl, dissolve candies in water. Stir in gelatin until dissolved. Fold in applesauce.
2. Pour into 12 oiled 1/3-cup individual heart molds, a 4-cup heart-shaped mold or a 1-quart bowl. Chill for at least 3 hours. Makes 10 to 12 servings.
White chocolate and strawberry cheesecake
Bake this at least one day ahead. If you can’t find any good strawberries this time of year, you can substitute other berries, or just use a cherry pie filling if you have to. (Do those come in strawberry?)
1 9-ounce package chocolate wafer cookies, broken into pieces
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 pound good quality white chocolate such as Lindt or Baker’s, finely chopped
4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
3 1-pint baskets strawberries, hulled, halved
1/2 cup apricot preserves
2 tablespoons brandy
1. For crust: Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 325. Butter 10-inch diameter spring form pan. Wrap outside of pan with foil. Finely grind cookies in processor. Add melted butter; process until crumbs are moist. Press crumbs onto bottom and 2 inches up sides of pan. Bake until set, about 15 minutes. Cool on rack. Maintain oven temperature.
2. For filling: Stir white chocolate in top of double boiler set over barely simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from double boiler. Cool to lukewarm, stirring occasionally. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese in large bowl until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Gradually add sugar, then salt; beat until smooth. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sour cream, whipping cream and vanilla; beat until well blended. Gradually add melted white chocolate, beating until mixture is smooth. Pour filling into crust.
3. Bake cake until top begins to brown but center still moves slightly when pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour 20 minutes. Open oven door slightly; turn off oven. Leave cake in oven 30 minutes. Chill cake uncovered overnight. Run small knife between pan sides and cake. Release pan sides.
4. Starting at outer edge of top of cake, arrange strawberry halves in slightly overlapping concentric circles, covering top completely. Stir preserves and brandy in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until mixture boils. Strain preserves. Brush glaze generously over strawberries, allowing some glaze to drip between berries.
Pecan caramel bars
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons ice water
1/2 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
7-oz. pecan halves
1. Make the crust: In a food processor, pulse the flour with the sugar and salt. Add the cubed butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle on the ice water and vinegar and process until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Turn the crumbs out onto a sheet of waxed paper and knead just until the dough comes together. Pat the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until slightly chilled, about 15 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 375. Line the bottom of an 8-by-8-inch metal baking pan with parchment paper (foil works fine if you’re out of parchment). Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of waxed paper to a 10-by-10-inch square (1/4-inch thick). Trim the dough to an 8-by-8-inch square and place it in the baking pan. Cut the remaining dough into 3/4-inch-wide strips and press them up the side of the pan to form a rim all around. Refrigerate the dough until firm, about 30 minutes.
3. Line the dough with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans (or uncooked rice). Bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until the dough is just set. Remove the parchment paper and weights and bake the crust for about 10 minutes longer, until lightly golden and set. Let cool.
4. Make the topping: In a large saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, honey and salt, and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until foamy and slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.
5. Add the cream and cook, stirring occasionally, until a candy thermometer inserted in the caramel registers 240 (soft ball stage), about 10 minutes longer. (If you don’t have a candy thermometer, fill a glass with ice water, and drip a little bit of the caramel into the glass. Scoop out the caramel with your fingers, and roll it between your fingertips. If you can form it into a small, squishy ball, it’s at soft-ball stage.) Add the pecans and cook for 2 minutes longer.
6. Pour the filling over the crust, spreading it evenly. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the crust is golden and the topping is bubbling. Let cool completely. Slide the parchment onto a cutting board. Cut into bars and serve. Can be stored in an airtight container for one week. Makes 9 bars but recipe can easily be doubled (for a larger pan).
Apricot filled cookies
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 package (8-oz.) cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
4 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup apricot preserves
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, for decoration
1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the lemon juice and lemon zest.
2. In another bowl, combine the flour and baking powder; stir into the cream cheese mixture just until it combines. Cover and chill until firm, about 1 hour.
3. Preheat oven to 350. Roll tablespoons of dough into balls and place them 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Using your finger, make an indentation in the center of each ball and fill with 1/2 teaspoon apricot preserves.
4. Bake in preheated oven 15 minutes or until edges are golden. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheets for 2 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.