Hearts, flowers, candy time again


Colin, Wikimedia Commons

Make some chocolate cherry cupcakes for Valentine’s Day and watch them disappear.

 

February 14 is coming up fast. That means many are scrambling to get their loved ones just the right gift for the special day.


While I was growing up, we had a tradition in the elementary school classroom of exchanging little Valentine’s Day cards. You know the kind: flat, small, usually cartoon character or super hero themed and sold in packs in just about any grocery or general merchandise store. We would decorate shoe boxes and pretend they were mail boxes, and we would drop one in each classmate’s creation.


Even if we didn’t want to.


It was a nice idea, of course, but it can be kind of hard to choose an appropriate card for a class bully or that kid who had a crush on you but you avoided them every chance you got. Remember, I am referring to a kid’s point of view.


I can’t say Valentine’s Day is a favorite of mine, but that’s just me. I am not about to spoil the fun for those who look forward to it. In fact, I am happy to present some recipes for treats, all intended to spoil your sweeties.


Enjoy, and above all, stay safe.


Raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake bars


Raspberry sauce:


2 teaspoons water, room temperature, divided


1 teaspoon cornstarch


1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries (unthawed)


2 tablespoons sugar


Crust:


20 Oreo cookies


5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


Filling:


6 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped


2 packages (8-oz. each) cream cheese, room temperature


1/3 cup sugar


1 tablespoon flour


1 teaspoon lemon juice


1 teaspoon vanilla


1/8 teaspoon salt


2 large eggs, room temperature


1. For raspberry sauce: Make this first, as the sauce needs to be completely cool before using. Mix 1 teaspoon water with 1 teaspoon cornstarch in a very small bowl and set aside. Combine raspberries, sugar and remaining 1 teaspoon water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir mixture as it begins to cook, breaking up some of the raspberries as you stir. Once simmering, add the cornstarch mixture. Continue to stir and allow to simmer for 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and press through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds. Allow the thin raspberry sauce to cool completely before using. Cover and store for up to 1 week in the refrigerator, if needed.


2. Preheat oven to 350. Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking pan (8-inch is too small) with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the sides to lift the finished bars out; set aside.


3. For crust: In a food processor or blender, pulse the whole Oreos into a fine crumb (you should have 1 1/2 cups of cookie crumbs). Stir the cookie crumbs and melted butter together in a medium-size bowl. Press tightly into the bottom of the lined baking pan. Pre-bake for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Leave oven on.


4. For filling: Melt the chopped white chocolate in a double boiler or the microwave. If using the microwave: place the white chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl. Melt in 20 second increments in the microwave, stirring after each increment until completely melted and smooth. Let the warm chocolate cool as you work on the other cheesecake filling ingredients. You can place it in the refrigerator, but just don’t let it turn solid.


5. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and granulated sugar together on medium-high speed in a large bowl until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, lemon juice, vanilla and salt, then beat until fully combined. On medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until just blended. After the 2nd egg is mixed into the batter, stop mixing. A few small lumps can remain. Pour in the cooled (but still liquid) white chocolate. Beat on low speed just until combined.


6. To assemble: Pour half of the cheesecake filling onto the crust. The crust can be slightly warm. Drizzle half of the raspberry sauce all over the top. Spread remaining cheesecake filling on top. (Don’t worry if the raspberry sauce spreads to the sides or slightly mixes into the top layer of cheesecake.) Drizzle remaining raspberry sauce on top, then use a toothpick or knife to gently swirl everything together.


7. Bake for 32 to 36 minutes or until the cheesecake appears set on top and the edges are lightly browned. The filling will be puffy, but will sink slightly down as it cools. Place pan on a wire rack. Cool for 45 minutes at room temperature, then place in refrigerator for at least 3 hours (and up to 1 day) before slicing. If you plan to chill for a longer time, loosely cover with aluminum foil after 3 hours of chilling.


8. To slice, lift the baked and chilled mixture out of the pan as a whole using the parchment overhang on the sides. Cut into squares with a sharp knife. For extra neat squares, wipe the knife clean between each cut. Cover and store leftover cheesecake bars in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.


Chocolate cherry cupcakes


For cupcakes:


9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened


4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (broken into pieces)


1 1/4 cups cherry jam


3/4 cup superfine sugar


1 pinch salt


2 large eggs, beaten


1 cup self-rising flour


For icing:


4 ounces bittersweet chocolate


1/2 cup heavy cream


12 red whole candied cherries


1. For cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a 12-unit muffin pan with liners. Place butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and heat until melted. When nearly completely melted, stir in the chocolate. Leave for a moment to begin softening, then take the pan off the heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the butter and chocolate are smooth and melted. Now add the cherry jam, sugar, salt and eggs. Stir with a wooden spoon and when all is thoroughly blended, stir in the flour.


2. Pour batter into the muffin papers in their tin and bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes before turning out.


3. For icing: When the cupcakes are cool, break the chocolate for the icing into little pieces and add them to the cream in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and then whisk until thick and smooth. Ice the cupcakes, smoothing the tops with the back of a spoon, and stand a cherry in the center of each. Makes 12 cupcakes.


Red velvet cookies


These are soft cookies.


1 1/3 cups flour


4 teaspoons cocoa powder


1/2 teaspoon baking soda


1/4 teaspoon salt


1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened


1/2 cup sugar


1/4 cup packed light brown sugar


1 large egg


2 teaspoons liquid red food coloring (or 1/2 teaspoon gel type)


1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla


1 teaspoon white vinegar or lemon juice


1 cup white or dark chocolate chips, divided


1. In a mixing bowl whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.


2. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream together butter and both sugars until combined. Mix in egg, then add in red food coloring, vanilla and vinegar.


3. Add flour mixture and mix just until combined. Mix in 3/4 cup white or semi-sweet chocolate chips (set aside remaining chips to use after baking). Cover bowl and chill dough 1 to 2 hours until dough is nearly firm. Preheat oven to 350 near the end of the dough chilling.


4. Scoop dough out and shape into balls about 1 1/2 tablespoons each. Transfer to parchment paper-lined baking sheet spacing 2 inches apart.


5. Bake one sheet at a time (keep remaining dough chilled and repeat process), until cookies appear set on the edges but slightly under-baked in the center, about 10 to 11 minutes.


6. Remove cookies from oven and gently press some of the remaining white or dark chocolate chips into tops. Allow to cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.


7. Store cookies in an airtight container.


Tip: Keep a few bread slices or large flour tortillas in container with cookies to keep them soft. Makes about 23 cookies.


Homemade pink lemonade


1 to 1 1/4 cups sugar


4 cups water, divided


1 cup cranberry juice


1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice


Fresh lemon slices, for garnish


1. Make a simple syrup: Heat sugar (use 1 1/4 cups of sugar if you’ll be using unsweetened cranberry juice) and 1 cup of the water in a small saucepan until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove the simple syrup from the heat and let it cool.


2. Combine the remaining water, cranberry juice, lemon juice and simple syrup in a pitcher. Make adjustments to taste. If the lemonade is a little sweet for your taste, add a little more lemon juice to it.


3. Chill in the refrigerator for about an hour, or add ice to cool the lemonade. Serve in glasses and top with a slice of lemon. Makes 6 servings.