Valentine's Day should be something special, way beyond a box of chocolates or a bouquet of roses. Perhaps a memorable dessert is just the magic ingredient for love.
Creating unforgettable sweets for your sweetie on the sweetest day takes a little ingenuity, and for this we turn to a few extraordinary French liqueurs. Think the likes of Chambord, Cointreau and Grand Marnier.
Chambord, made in the fertile and rich Loire Valley, is a luscious black raspberry liqueur infused with red raspberries, blackberries and currants, and is finished with notes of vanilla, honey and ginger.
"With the flavors of berry, vanilla, honey, herbs and sweet aromatics, Chambord lends itself to a host of desserts and savory dishes," said Tim Laird, Chief Entertaining Officer for Brown-Forman, one of America's largest wine and spirits companies. "Anything chocolate such as cupcakes, brownies or truffles make for perfect pairings."
The ambrosial characteristics of Chambord's top notes of raspberry are delicious as an aperitif or digestif for a romantic dinner, but it also pairs perfectly if not remarkably well with dark and bittersweet chocolate, as Laird suggested. That means when it comes to baking it can be used in a number of ways.
If your recipe calls for rum- or gin-soaked raisins, for example, substitute Chambord instead. Tired of vanilla flavoring in all your recipes? Chambord is sort of sexy surrogate for vanilla, really adding ooh-la-la to any cookie or brownie recipe. Laird also said it can be added to marinades for savory dishes such as pork or added to cranberry sauce to accompany turkey dinners.
Added Laird, "One of the easiest desserts is to add a little Chambord to whipped cream as a topper for cakes, pies, tarts or fresh fruit. I also like to use Chambord when making a raspberry sauce. Simply blend together fresh or frozen raspberries with sugar to taste and add Chambord. The Chambord takes the raspberry flavors to new heights."
Cointreau is another sweet favorite liqueur. One of the great things about Valentine's is it still is winter and the prime season for fresh citrus and citrus flavors like Cointreau. Blended with both sweet and bitter orange peels, Cointreau is a lovely spirit that brings home golden, fruity warmth.
"Cointreau is not only a key ingredient in making the best cocktails especially for Valentine's Day," said a Cointreau representative, "but also it is a wonderful product for cooking."
Of course, like most French liqueurs, Cointreau pairs well with decadent chocolate desserts, but with both sweet and salty undertones, it can be sprinkled with a touch of olive oil on a citrus-based salad. And for your next seafood dish, whether for lobster, scallops, or crab, it can be blended with butter for a more savory dish.
Then there's Grand Marnier, an elegant floral and fragrant orange peel-based cognac from France. Both sweet and strong, Grand Marnier is long on citrus with hints of oak and brown sugar. It's a real burst of flavor, a smidge more robust than Cointreau, so a little of it goes a long way.
While it dazzles in desserts, try mixing it with butter and marmalade for a quick spread that's delicious on crusty French bread — or use it as a base with peanut butter for a surprisingly good adult-style PB&J. Or add just a touch — a teaspoon or two at the most — in butter-cream frostings, cupcakes, muffins and fruitcake. It works well as a glaze for poultry, too.
Now for the Valentine's finish: cap off your amorous evening with a half ounce, maybe an ounce at the most, of Chambord, Cointreau and Grand Marnier trickled into the bottom of a flute glass, and then top it with good, no, make that great, champagne.
Other French liqueurs that work well with champagne -- and in cooking -- and of which I personally have sampled and adore, are Benedictine with its unusual and exotic blend of 27 plants and spices, St.-Germain with its incredible elderflower scent and floral sweetness, or the rare Crème Yvette, with its subtle flavors of violets and vanilla.
Whether you're cooking or sipping, French-inspired liqueurs make quite the splash.
Chambord black raspberry brownies Yield approximately 12 servings 1 box Devil's Food cake mix 2 eggs, lightly beaten 1/2 cup oil 1/4 cup water 1/4 cup Chambord 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar (optional) Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick foil. Combine cake mix, eggs, oil, water and Chambord. Fold in semi-sweet chocolate chips. Pour into prepared baking pan and smooth. Bake 35-40 minutes. Cool to room temperature before cutting. Dust with confectioner's sugar (optional) and slice brownies into 3-inch squares. Top with ice cream and 3 to 4 ounces of Chambord.
Chocolate chambord souffle 3 large egg yolks 1/2 cup sugar 2 tablespoons Chambord 2 cups heavy cream 3 tablespoons confectioner's sugar 2 tablespoons water 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate 2 tablespoons unsalted butter Place egg yolks in large mixing bowl. Combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil for 1 minute on stovetop. Pour the sugar mixture over egg yolks, and then mix well. Add Chambord to mix. Set aside. In separate bowl, whip 1 cup of heavy cream to medium peaks. Using a mixer, whisk the egg and Chambord mixture until think and pale, about 2 to 3 minutes. Melt chocolate and butter in a bowl set over saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time. Remove bowl from the heat and let cool until tepid. Fold the egg mixture and whipped cream into the chocolate mixture until just combined. Spoon into favorite stemware, or serving bowl. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Can be made a day ahead. Before serving, whip remaining heavy cream with confectioner's sugar until stiff peaks form. Garnish mousse with whipped cream and fresh mint sprigs.
Cointreau souffle Serves 6 3 1/4 ounces granulated sugar 1 1/2 ounces unsalted butter, chilled 3 ounces bread flour 7 1/2 ounces (just shy of a cup) whole milk 2 small egg yolks 1 tablespoon Cointreau 1 tablespoon grated navel orange zest 4 1/2 ounces egg whites 1 1/2 ounces granulated sugar 1/2 ounce cornstarch Powdered sugar Preheat oven to 380º F. Butter and sugar 6 small soufflé bowls; reserve. Combine 3 1/4 ounces sugar, butter and bread flour in mixing bowl and beat until mealy. Bring milk to boil in saucepan; stir in flour mix, and then transfer to mixing bowl. Whisk yolks, Cointreau and orange zest; reserve. Place egg whites in mixing bowl; beat at medium speed to soft peaks; add 1 1/2 ounces sugar and cornstarch; beat until stiff. Fold in egg white. Fill in soufflé bowls to one-quarter below rims. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and service with ice cream.
Grand Marnier creme brulee Makes 5 ramekins 5 ounces milk 5 ounce whipping cream 1 vanilla bean Zest of 1 orange 3/4 ounce Grand Marnier 1 1/2 ounce sugar 5 egg yolks 5 ounces brown sugar Finely grate the orange zest and let it macerate in the Grand Marnier for an hour. Bring the milk and cream to a boil. Add the vanilla bean, the Grand Marnier-macerated orange zest mixture and the sugar and let infuse for an hour. Strain to remove the vanilla bean and the orange zest. Add the egg yolks, mixing gently so the mixture does not froth. Pour into ramekins and cook in the oven following two possible methods: At 230 F in a traditional oven (heated from both top and bottom) in a double boiler for approximately 50 minutes; or at 175 F in a convection or forced convection oven without the double boiler (more difficult) for approximately 30 minutes. The crème brulee is cooked when it is set in the middle and "trembles" when the ramekin is tapped. Remove the cremes brulees from the oven and allow to cool. Place them in the refrigerator. Just before serving, sprinkle with a thin layer of brown sugar and caramelize with a blow torch or under the broiler (more difficult). If the custard cooks too quickly it will be slightly granular, not creamy as it should be. If moisture has formed on the surface of the crème brulee when it is taken from the refrigerator, soak it up with some paper towels before sprinkling with sugar. Serve with a snifter of Grand Marnier or Grand Marnier Louis-Alexandre.
Grand Marnier frozen souffle Serves 5. Use clear glasses for aesthetic effects. For the syrup: 10 tablespoons orange juice 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier For the soufflé: 3 eggs 6 egg yolks 1 1/4 cups sugar 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier 1 1/2 cups whipping cream 2 tablespoons candied orange peel For the meringue: 2 egg whites 4 tablespoons sugar Pinch of salt 5 ladyfinger biscuits or 5 slices of French gingerbread (pain d'épices) Two hours ahead of time, macerate the candied orange peel with 50 ml of Grand Marnier. In a double boiler, beat the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is warm. Remove from heat and continue beating until the mixture has completely cooled down. Add the whipped cream and the orange peel-Grand Marnier maceration. Garnish the glasses with this mixture. Divide the ladyfinger biscuits, which have been previously soaked in the orange juice, and 50 ml of Grand Marnier liqueur evenly between the glasses. Freeze for at least 4 hours. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites with the salt until stiff while gradually adding the sugar. Spoon this meringue over top of the soufflés and keep cold. Just before serving, place the glasses under the oven broiler to color the meringue slightly. Serve with a snifter of Grand Marnier. NOTE: The egg and sugar mixture should be thoroughly warmed and is the key to the soufflé's lightness. Don't over whip the cream, as it will give the soufflé a greasy texture (stop beating as soon as the cream holds peaks).
Today is Wednesday, Dec. 11, the 345th day of 2013. There are 20 days left in the year. 1863 — 150 years ago: The message of Abraham Lincoln, read in congress yesterday, is published in full in our paper today, with a new proclamation relating the terms upon which states can return to the union. 1888 — 125 years ago: An appropriation has been made by congress for the improvement of the upper Mississippi River with $200,000 set aside for the portion of the river between Keokuk and the mouth of the Illinois River. 1913 — 100 years ago: Work of remodeling First Swedish Lutheran Church at 4th Avenue and 14th Street was nearly completed. 1938 — 75 years ago: An unexplained outbreak of tularemia (rabbit fever) in the state has Illinois public health officials puzzled. Ten persons have died, and 243 are officially reported ill with the infection. 1963 — 50 years ago: A dramatic, multi-million dollar riverfront improvement project for the downtown area of Rock Island was unveiled at a meeting of 200 civic leaders at noon today. 1988 — 25 years ago: For several supporters of the Dispatch Goodfellow/Argus Santa program their donation is a year long project. Emma Pugh and Anne Persinger spent a good part of their spare time this year knitting forty pairs of mittens and slippers.