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Something heartfelt

Before I begin, I have to assure you that it’s not really as bad as it may seem. I’m not a curmudgeon, I swear. I’m not one of those bitter types who while away February by spitting on the displays of pink-and-red heart garlands in the grocery store. (Although, come to think of it, now that I’ve written that sentence, if I were a curmudgeon, I’d know exactly what to do.) It’s just that Valentine’s Day doesn’t really excite me. It’s not like Thanksgiving or Christmas, those holidays that come with catchy tunes to hum under your breath, the holidays that invite all sorts of baking and splurging and beautiful, endless buffet tables. Valentine’s Day feels a little stilted, that’s all. Too often, it’s like an obstacle course or a big end-of-term exam, a test to prove how good you are, or how impossibly romantic you can be. I like my romance under less fraught circumstances. It just feels more romantic that way.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I don’t even remember what Brandon and I did last Valentine’s Day. I have no idea. I don’t even know if we were in the same city. I’m sure it was nice, whatever it was, but to tell you the truth, it has nothing on any number of other, more ordinary days. Like, for example, one Saturday last July. I think of that day a lot. It was overcast, and we left at midday and drove north to Bellingham. We had a bag of spicy peanuts in the console, and I was wearing a new pair of shoes. We stopped at a Goodwill near Mount Vernon and bought a Pyrex dish that I love, and then we ate spaghetti with pesto for dinner. Our canopy bed at the Best Western was nearly four feet high – it had stairs, people – and the next morning, when I tried to climb down, I banged my hip on the bedside table and got a whopper of a bruise. We laughed about it for a long time. I loved that trip.

Or then there was September 15, the day after my birthday, the day that Brandon spent sitting on the floor of my family’s kitchen in Oklahoma City, wrestling contentedly with a rusty bolt in my father’s old espresso machine. He spent hours sitting there, watching us come and go, rigging and wrenching and wielding a can of WD-40. When he finally pried the bugger loose, the machine shuddered to life with a squeal and a roar, a sound none of us had heard since my father died. Brandon worked the knobs with a sort of sweet, fearful reverence, and my mother fawned over her cappuccino for hours.

Or there’s that time a few weeks ago, when we decided that dinner at home was too much trouble and drove instead to Malena’s, as we sometimes do. The cilantro on my beans was a little wilted, but the guacamole was good, and so were the tortillas. We sat next to the heating vent, under the fluorescent tubes, and I tickled my foot along his calf, and all of it cost under nine dollars. I’d take any of these for a Valentine’s Day. They’re good enough for me. A special holiday for lovers is a very nice idea, but I’d much rather a little daily something heartfelt – a touch, a look, a table for two at a tacqueria – instead.

So I’m not a big Valentine’s buff. I don’t need any fancy celebrations or fanfare. (Never mind that Brandon has apparently planned some sort of huge, secret to-do for this Wednesday, nor that he is so impatient to share it with me that he asks at least once a day, “Do you want me to tell you what it is? No? Are you sure?” I know I will love it, whatever it is – but mainly because he’s so unbearably cute when he’s scheming and planning and itching to tell a secret, not so much because it’s Valentine’s Day.) For me, a quiet dinner is just fine. Or better than fine, even, especially when it concludes on the couch, with sleek, squidgy wedges cut from a chocolate tart.

I know, because that was our Saturday. I didn’t want to interfere with Brandon’s secret scheme for Wednesday, so this weekend I made us an early Valentine’s dinner. We started with a favorite salad, a purply jumble of slivered red cabbage and lemon, and then moved on to panade, which is pretty plush and sexy as winter dishes go. (It is also quite filling; be warned.) It was a good meal, minus the part where I got painfully hungry before supper was ready and Brandon had to step in to make the salad while I, in a panic, set the table. But the best part was undoubtedly the tart.

I had seen it in the most recent issue of Gourmet – (I know, I know, I’m starting to get redundant) – and it looked too good to ignore. Brandon agreed, and so I made it. The process was astoundingly easy: a press-in chocolate cookie crust filled with a spiffed-up, five-minute ganache, baked and chilled and dusted with cocoa. Moreover, it was delicious. Dense and silky, heartstoppingly rich, it was like eating the centers out of a half-dozen truffles, only without the mess. Its crust had just the right amount of crisp and shatter and, we noticed, the faintest caramelly flavor at its edges, where the butter had begun to brown against the hot pan. And, need I repeat, it was easy, which meant less time for cleanup and more for Brandon, and for our latest Netflix borrow. He even covered my eyes during the gory parts, and that, more than any grocery store garland, is love.

Chocolate Truffle Tart
Adapted from Gourmet, February 2007

In my humble opinion, the most important thing to know about this tart is that it improves with age. It was good on the first day, yes, but it was tremendous on the second. TREMENDOUS! So if you plan to serve it on Wednesday, try to make it tomorrow, or even tonight. Hop to it!

As for types of chocolate, I have to admit that I took the pitiful, what’s-in-the-pantry route. I used Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chips. With any other brand, I wouldn’t even consider using chips – they just don’t melt like baking chocolate – but Ghirardelli works beautifully. And although it is kind of a plain-tasting chocolate, it was perfect here, yielding a wonderfully complex, fruity flavor. I imagine that Valrhona could also be good, although I wouldn’t use Scharffen Berger, which is already incredibly fruity to start with. It would be too much.

As for the pan, I only had a 9-inch springform, not the 8-inch version called for by Gourmet. The tart turned out just fine, but as you might expect, it was a little on the thin side, with the filling maxing out around a half-inch thick. So if you have an 8-inch springform pan, use it. And if you only have a 9-inch, know that your tart might look a little skinny. Pretty, but skinny.

Lastly – whew! – Gourmet calls for this tart to be served chilled, straight from the fridge, but we greatly preferred it after an hour or two at room temperature. When chilled, the filling is sort of chewy and squeaky, but after a little rest on the countertop, it softens a little and gets pleasantly silky. Much better.

For the crust:
28 chocolate wafers such as Nabisco Famous, finely ground in a food processor (1 ½ cups)
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the filling:
½ lb. good-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao), coarsely chopped
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 large eggs
1/3 cup heavy cream
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Unsweetened cocoa, for dusting the finished tart

To prepare the crust:
Put an oven rack in the middle position, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Wrap a sheet of foil around the outside of an 8-inch round springform pan, to catch any possible leaks. Lightly butter the sides of the pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together the ground wafers and melted butter until well combined. Turn the mixture into the pan and, using your hands, pat it evenly onto the bottom and 1 ½ inches up the side. Slide the pan into the oven, and bake until the crust is slightly puffed, about 10 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack, about 15 minutes. Leave the oven on.

To prepare the filling:
While the crust cools, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth, in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over – but not touching – barely simmering water. Remove the mixture from the heat and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs lightly. Add the cream, sugar, salt, and vanilla, and whisk to combine well. Add the chocolate mixture, and whisk to combine well.

To assemble the tart:
Pour the filling into the cooled crust, smooth it gently with the back of a spoon or a rubber spatula, and rap the pan once on the counter to eliminate any air bubbles. Slide the pan carefully into the oven, and bake until the filling 1 inch from the edge is set and slightly puffed but the center still trembles a little when the pan is gently shaken, 20-25 minutes. The center will continue to set as it cools.

Cool the tart completely in the pan on a wire rack, about 2 hours. Chill, uncovered, until the center is firm, about 4 hours. About 1 to 2 hours before serving, remove the tart from the fridge and carefully pull away the side of the pan. Put a teaspoon or two of cocoa in a small sieve, and dust it over the cake. Allow to sit at room temperature for an hour or two; then serve.

Note: If you’re short on time – which you may be, since Valentine’s Day falls on a Wednesday – you can make the crust and filling and bake the tart a day or two ahead. When the tart is completely chilled, cover it loosely with foil. (Covering it before it is fully chilled can cause condensation.) The finished tart will keep, according to Gourmet, in the fridge for three days.

Yield: 8-12 servings


Blogger Kristel said...

Even as a single girl, and not in spite of that very fact, I agree with you about Valentine's Day. It just seems too saccrine, inauthentic, and insincere.

I learned from a college boyfriend (who refered to Valentine's Day as Black Monday or Friday or whatever) that Valentine's Day is also Arizona Statehood Day.

So, that is what I celebrate now -- Happy Arizona Statehood Day, may your cacti be large and your salsa spicy. :)

3:23 PM, February 12, 2007  
Blogger Shari said...

hi molly!
i love your little stories in this post and i'm with you. we are having a home cooked meal and a bit of a sing along with our guitars for valentine's. thanks so much for the tips on the chocolate tart. i am planning on making it so it's good to know these little details. xoxo shari

4:08 PM, February 12, 2007  
Anonymous Dave said...

I LOVE Valentines Day. I should because it is also my wedding anniversary. Last year, just before out 30th anniversary, I took my wife to a local smoke-free coffee house, got up on stage, and perfomed an 1850's love song for her.

6:12 PM, February 12, 2007  
Blogger Lia said...

I have to admit that I used to get into the whole Valentine's Day thing and thankfully, those days are over. I think having someone I really love and that I have great days with all the time, not just on the one day per year that Hallmark says you should, has something to do with it.

Although I have to admit that Daniel did send me the cutest email today with a number of different dishes to choose from for the V-Day breakfast he's making me Wednesday morning. So yes, we will do something nice and sweet together, but it won't cost a fortune and it won't force us to profess our love in a restaurant full of other couples. Blech!

That tart looks damn good, by the way.

7:00 PM, February 12, 2007  
Anonymous andrea said...


i love all the stories you share with us on your blog! i haven't commented in a while but i just wanted to say that this was a lovely post, brandon sounds like a wonderful person, and i agree with you about valentine's day, completely.

and that tart looks and sounds amazing! i can't wait to try it!

7:09 PM, February 12, 2007  
Blogger Catherine said...

You're so right about Valentines! How wonderful tht you have someone who really cares about you and such a balance approach to the whole ugly V-Day.
I like your spirit.

7:29 PM, February 12, 2007  
Blogger Bekah said...


Add me to the list---my favorite way to celebrate Valentine's Day is a trip to PCC for yummy food from the deli and then a night hanging out with my guy watching a movie and having a no fuss meal that is good(he loves not being on dish duty). But chocolate for dessert is a must...


8:35 PM, February 12, 2007  
Blogger Jason said...

Last year, Hiromi and I stayed home and cooked together... I made calzone fritti and a chocolate fondue, and she sliced apples and wielded the cookie-cutters tom complete dessert. It certainly wasn't a terribly healthy dinner, but there's something to be said for indulgence.


I'm not terribly sentimental and Valentine's Day isn't very important to me, either, but making dinner together is about the nicest way I can think of celebrating the day.

11:23 PM, February 12, 2007  
Blogger The Culinary Chase said...

Feb.14 is just another day but I do love a good chocolate cake! Cheers!

12:17 AM, February 13, 2007  
Blogger Ashley said...

what a nice idea for valentine day!!!

5:55 AM, February 13, 2007  
Blogger hannah said...

i am with you sister, i would much rather have my romance spread throughout the year instead of condensed on one day. that brandon, i have said it before and i will say it again, he is a KEEPER!

thanks for the tips on the tart, i think i am more willing to take this one on since it doesnt involve flipping like the winning hearts and minds chocolate cake. i should not be allowed to flip things apparently.

ps. have you eaten the centers out of a box of truffles?

7:16 AM, February 13, 2007  
Blogger RA said...

Hi, Molly! I am so there with you, even the not remembering what my husband and I did last year... The whole thing is rather arbitrary to me, but the day is a great excuse to break out a new dessert, like your fab tart! I have dark chocolate cupcakes waiting to be frosted, myself. :)

7:38 AM, February 13, 2007  
Anonymous dani said...

Great writing as always. I agree with you on Valentine's Day. I don't recall if we've ever went out for dinner in 8 years! We'll be staying home while I attempt to make a nicer-than-usual weekday meal of baby rack of lamb for the first time. However, we will be indulging in some Costco whoopie pies as I stink at baking!

7:50 AM, February 13, 2007  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

I got hit with the triple bogey...Vday, Anniversary and my wife's Birthday all within a week :P YUCK!

8:14 AM, February 13, 2007  
Blogger Alice Q said...

I think Valentine's Day is what you make it - it can be great if you keep it low key. This year we're going to dinner with a friend (whose fiance is out of town) at a new restaurant, and I baked heart shaped chocolate chip cookies for the office. I love your little stories - those sound like great days! And about that tart - how could it NOT be delicious???

8:22 AM, February 13, 2007  
Anonymous Jen said...

I'm currently in the midst of a complete kitchen remodel and am now routinely reading your blog from work as some sort of sadistic food-porn since I cannot currently cook anything. This means a Valentine's Day cooked entirely with the microwave or the George Forman...how sad! Your photography and your writing are really wonderful!

I'm here in the rainy city with you and as I walk from my bus stop to work I've begun to wonder if we pass each other...

9:52 AM, February 13, 2007  
Blogger catmiester said...

just broken off.... suffering from extreme dislike for anything to do with romance... valentines day? no i dont think so...

10:11 AM, February 13, 2007  
Blogger anniepall said...

how SWEET. i love the way you write about your love and your life. it's so simple but also so emotional. brandon sounds like the way paul is when he plans a little secret something for us to do. this year we're tight on the budget so i'm just going to make raspberry glazed pork chops and i'm seriously thinking about that chocolate tart. yum.

10:38 AM, February 13, 2007  
Blogger Sonya said...

But the restraint? How do you resist eating some until the next day?

11:10 AM, February 13, 2007  
Blogger Clare said...

I saw that recipe (and amazing front-of-book photo) of that tart in Gourmet...just the picture made my mouth water! Thanks for another eloquent post on an over-produced holiday. And (*wincing in embarassment*), I am still pitching away on *the* story...it WILL happen before the big day, even if I have to barge into an editor's office and demand it.

11:54 AM, February 13, 2007  
Blogger amisha said...

i love this post... the stories of everyday love and romance are the best. i am not into valentine's either... it's the evenings with a cuddle and a read together, a good meal, that i remember.
and the tart sounds so, so good. after i eat the last of this chocolate cake...

12:58 PM, February 13, 2007  
Anonymous melanie said...

I'm with you about Valentine's Day. It has never really done it for me and the thought of trying to make my Mister do something on a set holiday is more effort than it is worth. This is a man who has to take off his wedding ring to tell people the date we got married - but please don't think he isn't romantic. He loves to take off that ring and tells people that I am brilliant for having the date engraved for him and gets all giddy when he shows people the engraving. He is, to the core, romantic - he just doesn't do dates and tries to make every day wonderful.

1:19 PM, February 13, 2007  
Blogger Deborah Dowd said...

Great post- finally a Valentine's post that doesn't make me puke! YOu are so right- Valentine's Day is one day, but true love should be demonstrated every day in small ways.
I am with you- I actually posted encouraging my readers to stay home and look for other ways to celebrate.

Deborah Dowd

P.S. I love the name Molly- it is what I named my daughter (she's now 11)

3:11 PM, February 13, 2007  
Anonymous Cat said...

Oh how lovely...

I feel warm, (stomach and heart, both) after reading that.

Thanks, Molly.

9:37 AM, February 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank goodness, someone who agrees! Valentine's is not for me. I don't care to demonstrate my love for Dear Husband just because someone else decrees it. I'm all for spontineaity!

Thanks for the chocolate tart tips!

10:34 AM, February 14, 2007  
Blogger Susan said...

Love should be expressed in myriad ways at random times. Thanks for the story.

2:41 PM, February 14, 2007  
Blogger s said...


made this tuesday, ate it yesterday with some tasty raspberry sauce. it was scrumptious and oh-so-easy to make! thanks!


8:43 AM, February 15, 2007  
Blogger Max said...

I'm with you, Molly. Give me a spur of the moment trip or a regular day-turned-special any day. My boyfriend and I postponed Valentine's Day until Friday for convenience's sake and I was planning on making a chocolate souffle. But this recipe sound so heavenly (LOVE your description of the inside of truffles!), that I may have to try this instead. :)

2:06 PM, February 15, 2007  
Blogger Emily said...

I think we're all eagerly awaiting to hear about the surprise...

3:15 PM, February 15, 2007  
Anonymous SaraB said...

I am, even as I write this, making this delectable tart that I saw on your blog! Just after I slid the tart into the oven I looked at my recipe holder - and saw the issue of Gourmet that it's from! I must have missed it on my first pass (I was so swept up in the pizza recipes) and am SO GLAD I saw it on your site! I ADORE YOUR WEBSITE! Thank you.

3:28 PM, February 15, 2007  
Anonymous Five Flowers (Emily) said...

I love how you tie stories and food- so important, like narrative art really. Thank you for that.
My partner and I sort of boycott V day- kind of a Hallmark holiday to me in many ways...
will try that desert, however!

8:47 PM, February 15, 2007  
Blogger Dee said...

I agree with you, unexpectedly memorable moments are tops on my list too, valentines or not :) I love reading your blog!

10:52 PM, February 15, 2007  
Blogger Gemma said...

I agree with you completely on the low key valentines - it is usually just a nice meal at home for us (no looking at other couples making gooey eyes at each other across a candle). I spied that tart in Gourmet and was tempted but went with chocolate mousse instead. So what was the huge surprise...

7:46 AM, February 16, 2007  
Blogger helenjane said...

You inspired me to make this tart last night but since I had ginger snaps instead of chocolate wafers, I added two teaspoons of ground ginger to the chocolate mixture.

It worked! And thanks for the enthusiasm.

8:39 AM, February 16, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Hello all! I'm so sorry for not replying to your comments sooner. You know how I like to reply to each one individually, but this week, I guess it's not meant to be. But thank you all for your comments, as always, and for sharing your Valentine's stories too. I loved reading them. So many sweet stories and ideas!

And since you asked about Brandon's top secret surprise, I'll tell you: he told me to pack an overnight bag, and on Wednesday afternoon, we got in the car and headed south. For the first hour and a half, he refused to say where we were going - and had SO much fun trying to confuse me - but finally he admitted that we were headed to Portland. He'd booked us a hotel and made a reservation at Wildwood for dinner. Then we spent Thursday wandering and eating - Ken's Artisan Bakery, Pearl Bakery, and Ken's Artisan Pizza - and going to Powell's and seeing a matinee of Volver. (For the record, eating a chocolate bouchon during an Almodovar movie is my idea of heaven.) Then we drove back home. He is SO proud of himself for pulling it off. Neither of us had ever done anything like that before, so it was really a treat. Plus, it was Portland! So nice.

Hope you all had a wonderful week.

1:28 PM, February 17, 2007  
Blogger Alice Q said...

That sounds like a great trip Molly! I have been hearing great things about the food in Portland - and Chocolate and Almodovar really does sound like heaven. Gotta hit the hay now... I am getting up early to make your doughnut muffins for brunch tomorrow morning!

10:27 PM, February 17, 2007  
Blogger Andrew Galarneau said...

Now, a surprise trip to a lovely destination - there's a Valentine's Day present worth the hubbub.

3:58 PM, February 19, 2007  
Anonymous Sijbrich said...

I so agree with you. My husband I have so many more meaningful memories during the year, that Valentines day seems sort of superficial in a way, so we usually don't do anything too big. Thanks for sharing the Chocolate Tart recipe. It sounds delicious and I know I am going to be using it soon!

8:30 AM, February 20, 2007  
Anonymous Michelle said...

Hi Molly! I've been coming to your site for some time, but have never made a post. I've used a few of your recipes, all of which were fantastic. Thank you for creating such a great site. I also love to tweak and adjust recipes, and it's interesting to read what someone else has to say about such things. I do have one question: you use a food processor frequently. What kind do you have? I *used* to have a little one, up until earlier tonight when mine broke while making your Little Family hummus. (Now I have to figure out what to do with half-chunky, half-creamy hummus, hehe.) I need to get another one, but I thought I'd ask what kind you prefer.

9:12 PM, March 16, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Lovely to meet you, Michelle. I'm so sorry, though, to hear of the demise of your food processor - and in the middle of making Little Family hummus, no less! I feel responsible! That's really awful.

But you're smart, though, to be thinking already about replacing it. I love my food processor, and it'll be a sad, sad day when it dies on me. Mine is a Cuisinart with an 11-cup bowl (the Prep 11 Plus), and it works beautifully. I find that it's just the right size - not too big for making a batch of pesto, say, but big enough for pureeing winter squash and making big batches of hummus. My only quibble with it is that its feed tube is pretty narrow.

More recently, we got a smaller version as well - the Cuisinart Mini Prep Plus - and it's nice too, although too little to use for much. I like it for pureeing bananas, and Brandon has used it for some salsa-type things too. But in general, I'd recommend an 11-cup. Hope that helps!

3:37 PM, March 17, 2007  
Anonymous michelle said...

I think this is the blog of the gal that I saw on the TV commericial. Let me know. I thought this was such a cool story that I immediately got up from the TV and came to my computer to try and find this blog ... and here I am. I was just happy to see that two people were as into food as much as I am. Love the blog and the reicpes and plan on visiting again. I was surprised to see that Oklahoma City was your home town as that's where I'm from, and I love the falafals at Mediterranean Deli!

5:40 PM, April 02, 2007  
Anonymous Nico said...

Sounds like Portland is the place to be. It turns out that I'll be living there due to an internship throughout the summer. Any tips food or non-food related are highly appreciated!

1:06 PM, April 04, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Yep, Michelle, you found me! So glad you did. And as for the Mediterranean Deli, I know - isn't the falafel terrific? Some of the best I've had in the States, for sure.

Nico, I think you'll really like Portland. Summer should be gorgeous there, too. E-mail me - cheeseandchocolate (at) gmail (dot) com - and I'll pass along some recommendations.

4:01 PM, April 04, 2007  
Blogger Carrie said...

I realize the last post made was in 2007, and it's, um, 2011, but I have more recently been directed to your blog by a good friend - the same good friend who has issued an Orangette food challenge whereby we select a recipe, make it, and review how the process went. As I am hosting February's wine club (yep - not book or knitting - wine), and as it's February, I wanted to make something lovely for the girls. This seemed to fit the bill on screen and if the initial waftings that are coming from my oven are any indication, it shall be just the ticket in real life. I was going to serve it with a nice Cabernet, but I'm thinking with the bittersweet, maybe something lighter, like a Pinot Noir. If you have recommendations (that is, if you check blog posts made 4 years past inception), I'm all ears! If not (wine club is tomorrow - I made the tart today on purspose, though, because I hear it's tremendous day 2) - thanks for the lovely dessert idea and recipe! I shall review it well!

7:49 PM, February 23, 2011  
Anonymous Pat Thomson said...

Carrie, it's never too late to comment. In fact, I just recently found Orangette (featured in ELLE) and tracked down this chocolate tart for my hubby's birthday. It's in the oven now...

I run wine tours in Italy (La Dolce Vita Wine Tours), and here are a few perfect chocolate pairings. While Pinot Noir is often teamed up with milk chocolate, this calls for something else.

Option #1: Marsala. Don't wrinkle your nose. Just buy a good bottle of Marsala Superiore (such as Pellegrino or, if you really want the best of the best, Marco De Bartoli's Masala Superiore.) To Die For.

Option #2: Port wine. Again, avoid the bargain-basement version. Try instead of LBV, or Late Bottle Vintage, which is a poor man's vintage. Smith Woodhouse's unfiltered version is opulent and deep. Or go for an aged Tawny, like Grahams 10 or 20 Year. They cost a bit, but the tawnies last opened.

Option #3: Brachetto d'Acqui. This is a light frizzante dessert wine from Piedmont. It's like Moscato d'Asti, but it's red. Sooooo yummy. It's like drinking red raspberries, so it's a great match with chocolate.

Try all three at your next wine club!

10:30 AM, April 12, 2011  

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