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VALENTINE'S DAY | Before It's Too Late,

All the Chocolate You Want!

Because really, how sexy will dessert be once it's considered a health food?

February 14, 2001|CHARITY FERREIRA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What food carries a heavier burden of expectation and cliche than chocolate?

Every year chocolate is celebrated on Valentine's Day for its sensual romantic symbolism, its power as an aphrodisiac to awaken slumbering passions. Its bittersweet complexity is as sharp and rewarding as love itself. But if an edible substitute for love is what you're after, there are other foods that fill the void more easily and with less attendant baggage than chocolate.

Still, it's easy to see where chocolate gets its reputation. Caffeine and sugar make it a stimulant rivaled by few other foods. It melts yieldingly at body temperature. Historically it's been used to treat everything from poor appetite to mental fatigue, and heroes of children's literature have self-medicated with the stuff to great effect. Harry Potter eats chocolate to ward off the chill caused by soul-sucking Dementors. Charlie Bucket drinks a nourishing draught from a warm chocolate river in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

Now it looks as if every fantasy of chocolate as a health food might be true. Marcel Desaulniers, known for gratuitously sexy, truly dark chocolate desserts with names like "Chocolate Bypass Cake," refers in his latest book, "Death by Chocolate Cakes" (William Morrow, $35), to the heartening results of a Harvard study in which candy eaters lived an average of a year longer than non-candy eaters.

Even more promising was the news a few months ago that chocolate contains some of the same antioxidants responsible for giving red wine and green tea their heart-healthy reputation.

Maybe in the not-too-distant future we'll be reading about the "Chocolate Paradox," as scientists scramble to account for the fact that people who regularly consume chocolate (along with lots of butter, sugar, cream and eggs-hey, we can dream!) lead longer, happier lives.

Which means that now is the time to share a chocolate dessert with your valentine, before it loses its cachet and becomes as romantic as a bowl of oat bran.

There's no better meeting place for forks and spoons than the cream-filled center of a chocolate baba-a tender, subtly chocolate brioche soaked with rum syrup-or some other decadent confection.

On second thought, as good as these are, you'd better plan on making two-sharing might be hazardous to your health.

*

Chocolate Soufflee Cakes

Active Work Time: 20 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Chocolate Granita

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 20 minutes plus 3 hours chilling

Poached Pears Filled With Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache

Active Work Time: 1 hour * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour 30 minutes plus 1 hour chilling

Chocolate Rum Babas

Active Work Time: 30 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour plus 2 hours 15 minutes rising

These cream-filled, rum-soaked chocolate brioche are baked in 6-ounce ramekins, which makes them larger than traditional babas. The babas can be baked a day ahead, but don't soak or fill them until a few hours before serving.

BABAS

2 teaspoons dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/2 cups flour

1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder

3 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces and softened

* Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and whisk in the eggs.

* Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar and salt in the bowl of a mixer. With the mixer on low speed, add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients. When the dough starts to look crumbly but has not yet come together, add the butter, a few pieces at a time. Increase the speed to medium and beat about half a minute until the butter is incorporated into the dough. This is a soft, sticky dough that will stick to the sides of the bowl.

* Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured board and bring it together into a ball. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap, set it in a warm place and let it rise until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

* Grease 6 (6-ounce) ramekins with butter. Divide the dough into 6 pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Place each ball into a ramekin. Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and let the dough rise about 45 minutes.

* Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the babas until the tops begin to darken, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove them from the ramekins and allow to cool completely.

RUM SYRUP

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon dark rum

* Cook the sugar in the water in a small saucepan over medium heat until it dissolves. Bring the syrup to a simmer and remove from the heat. Stir in the rum.

ASSEMBLY

3/4 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon sugar

Few drops vanilla extract

* Cut a 1-inch hole in the bottom of each baba and use your fingers to make a hollow in the center. Do this gently, or the babas will crack. While the syrup is still warm, dip the babas into the syrup, one at a time, turning each to saturate all sides and keeping each baba in the syrup for about 30 seconds. Place the babas on a rack and let them stand about 15 minutes to cool completely and absorb the syrup.

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