The connection between chocolate and love — or at least lust — can be traced back to the Aztec culture of the 14th century. The emperor Montezuma consumed large quantities of the supposedly magic potion before enjoying the company of his harem. And during Aztec marriage ceremonies, the bride and groom often drank a cup of hot chocolate and exchanged cocoa beans.
Later, in the 18th century, the great lover Casanova was known to serve hot chocolate, the elixir of love, instead of champagne to set the mood.
Chocolate, which should be its own food group, can set off so many responses at once, just by the sight or smell of it. It can have an effect on the mind and the body and, as we all know, the heart. It evokes some of the same pleasure endorphins in the mind as being in love. Physically, for Abby — and many others, research shows — the sensation of a piece of dark chocolate melting in her mouth tickles her nose and triggers a sneeze.
Even though research has shown that chocolate does not contain any ingredients that would qualify it as an aphrodisiac, the legend continues that chocolate is still a prime ingredient in the recipe for love. On a recent “CBS Sunday Morning” show, the Parisian chocolate maker Patrick Roger — who the French government has called one of the finest chocolate artisans in the country — said that if a young man spends 10 euros, or $11.79, to buy his girlfriend a small bag of chocolates, “It’s a sure thing.” After all, “To the French, chocolate is about seduction,” correspondent David Turecamo said.
Chocolate can be an art form as well as a culinary experience. Roger makes chocolate sculptures that last for years. Look through Jacques Torres’ cookbook “Dessert Circus: Extraordinary Desserts You Can Make at Home” for photographs of the edible masterpieces Roger creates.
For us, the association between love and chocolate can be traced directly to the summer of 1996. I had invited Abby to my apartment for dinner. We had been dating for a while, and I was smitten. The dinner itself wasn’t impressive. I was reviewing a microwave cookbook for the publication for which I was working at the time, and frankly, each of those dishes — some chicken recipe, peas, maybe something else; neither of us can remember — tasted like they had been prepared in the microwave.
Dessert, however, was a different story. I had found a recipe in “Leo Buscaglia’s Love Cookbook,” and decided to try it for dessert: White Chocolate Mousse With Brandy. It was a somewhat ambitious recipe for a novice cook, and it needed to be prepared the day before the dinner, also a challenge for someone who constantly pushes deadlines. The dessert was a hit. The cold, creamy mousse with just a hint of brandy was delicious. We may have even shared a second helping. At the end of the evening, in a spontaneous move on my part, I asked Abby to marry me. And at 10 a.m. on December 28 of that same year, at her mother’s loft in downtown Bryan, she did just that.
We’ve made the mousse recipe for dinner parties in the years since. In fact, that remains the only recipe we’ve prepared from that lovely cookbook in the 18 years we have been married. And we always tell the story of that August night, of the lackluster dinner followed by a wonderful dessert. After serving the mousse for dessert at life group one Monday night, our friend Wendi Singletary dubbed it Love Mousse, and that’s what we’ve called it ever since.
Here are a few chocolate recipes to help you and your significant other celebrate Valentine’s Day. We have, of course, provided the recipe for the mousse, but we also share a technique to make small Chocolate Bowls in which to serve it. There’s a recipe for Flourless Chocolate Cake, suitable for those lovers allergic to gluten. It can be topped with an easy Raspberry Coulis and fresh Whipped Cream.
White Chocolate Mousse With Brandy (aka Love Mousse)
- 1/4 pound white chocolate
- 2 tablespoons brandy, cognac or Grand Marnier
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3/4 cup heavy cream, beaten to a medium-firm consistency
- Fresh raspberries (optional)
- Shaved dark chocolate (optional)
- Chocolate Bowls (recipe follows)
Break the chocolate into small pieces and place, along with the brandy and vanilla, into a medium bowl or the top part of a double boiler. Set the bowl or top boiler over 2 inches of very gently simmering water and stir several times until the chocolate has melted. Set aside to cool.
Beat the egg with the sugar in a small bowl until it has doubled in volume. Fold the egg into the melted chocolate. Fold the whipped cream, a bit at a time, into the melted chocolate, until thoroughly incorporated and smooth.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, with the wrap gently pushed down onto the mousse to prevent a film from forming, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Just before serving, spoon the mousse into Chocolate Bowls or serving cups and top with raspberries and/or shaved chocolate, if using.
Makes about 4 servings. (The cookbook says this recipe serves 2, but it actually makes enough mousse to get at least 4 servings, sometimes 6 small servings.)
* from “Leo Buscaglia’s Love Cookbook” (by Leo F. Buscaglia and Biba Caggiano, 1994)
- 12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 6 small balloons
- Parchment or wax paper
Melt chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave, making sure that no water gets into the chocolate. Transfer the chocolate to a bowl and cool until it is tepid, about 100 degrees.
Line two baking sheets with parchment or wax paper.
Blow up the balloons until they are about 4 inches wide then tie them closed. Dip each balloon into the melted chocolate, inclining it slightly to form a roundish shape on one side. Turn the balloon and dip it again, 3 or 4 times in all, until the chocolate resembles a large tulip. Stand the dipped balloons on the parchment-lined baking sheets. Some of the chocolate may drip down and form a pedestal.
When the chocolate is hard, prick the balloon and release the air inside. Let the balloon slowly deflate on its own. (Don’t try to pull the balloon out of the chocolate bowl before it is deflated.) Once the balloon is deflated, it should easily separate from the chocolate. Carefully pry up the balloon at the base, using your fingers. Place on a plate or a baking sheet and refrigerate until ready to use.
Makes about 4 servings.
Note: These bowls would also work to serve ice cream topped with fresh fruit.
* from “Essential Pépin: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food” (by Jacques Pépin, 2011)
Flourless Chocolate Cake
- 7 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
- 15 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Powdered sugar, for dusting
- Raspberry Coulis (optional, recipe follows)
- Whipped Cream (optional, recipe follows)
1) When melting chocolate over simmering water, don’t let the water touch the bottom of the bowl containing the chocolate. Use just about an inch of water. The hot water can possibly burn the chocolate through the bowl. If the water boils over and comes in contact with the chocolate, the chocolate will seize — or clump — and become unusable.
2) When whipping egg whites, make sure the bowl and beaters are completely clean and free of grease or fat of any kind. Otherwise, the egg whites will not whip properly.
Heat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust with flour or cocoa powder. Shake out the excess.
Set a heatproof bowl over simmering water and add the chocolate chips and butter. Heat until melted and smooth, stirring often. Set aside to cool.
Whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup sugar until all the sugar has dissolved, for about 10 minutes. Fold the yolk mixture into the chocolate.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar and salt. Continue whisking until the mixture looks glossy and holds a soft shape.
Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture in three parts. Fold only until there are no visible streaks of white.
Pour the batter into the prepared dish. Smooth the top and bake for 35-40 minutes. As the cake cooks it will develop cracks on top; this is normal. The cake is done when the sides are set and the center is still slightly soft.
Let the cake cool completely. Invert the cake on a baking sheet, remove the parchment and then invert onto a serving platter. Dust the top with powdered sugar. Drizzle with Raspberry Coulis and top with a dollop of Whipped Cream, if using.
Makes 2 cakes, 8 servings each.
- 7 ounces raspberries (or you can use blackberries, strawberries or any other berry)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 3 teaspoons lemon juice
- 4 teaspoons brandy or a fruit liqueur of your choice (optional)
Puree the berries in a blender or food processor and then strain.
Warm the puree in a saucepan.
In another pan, mix the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Mix into the berry puree. Return this mixture to a boil, strain again and mix in the lemon juice and brandy, if using.
Makes about 10 ounces, easily enough to use for both cakes and have some left over to add to a glass of sparkling wine or drizzle over ice cream.
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (Make sure you use heavy cream; half-and-half isn’t a viable option for whipping.)
- Powdered sugar, to taste
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon brandy or whichever liqueur used in the Raspberry Coulis (optional)
Place a metal mixing bowl and mixing beaters in the freezer for about 15 minutes prior to whipping the cream. This will speed up the whipping process.
Pour cream into chilled mixing bowl. Using a stand mixer or a hand mixer, whip until cream begins to thicken slightly. Add sugar, vanilla and liqueur, if using. Continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Do not overwhip as the cream will separate and form particles of butter.
Makes about 1 cup of whipped cream.