Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sweet Valentine

What is the most romantic day of the year? An anniversary? A loved one's birthday? February 14th? If you think the latter, then of course, you are not alone in celebrating this day of love and affection that has taken a strong hold in many countries around the world. Sure, it involves spending horrendous sums of money on mediocre roses; weeks of scouring for the perfect gift; dinner reservations made months in advance -- followed by a dinner had in a supposed aura of romance, but really just in close proximity to dozens of other couples crammed into a dimly-lit restaurant. But, still, it does give you something to look forward to mid-winter, when Christmas festivities are all said and done, and spring is tantalizingly close but not quite here yet.

My first exposure to this Hallmark holiday was when I was 12 years old, after my family had moved from Bombay, India to Kobe, Japan. In the 80's, Valentine's day was still pretty much unheard of in Bombay (and consequently, in all of India), so I was blissfully unaware of the social customs, expectations, and nuances surrounding this day in February. While in the United States, it seems appropriate to given any manner of gift, especially flowers and perfume, on Valentine's day, in Japan, milk or dark chocolate (not white chocolate, we'll get to that in a minute) is pretty much the only gift given. On February 14th, women are expected to give chocolate gifts to their male acquaintances, including all colleagues! Since this is an obligatory gift, it is sometimes referred to as "girichoco" or "chocolate obligation". (I never quite understood how this custom evolved, but doubtless, Meiji had something to do with it. And speaking of commercializing Hallmark holidays, Japan does it better than just about any one else. Check out this link to see what I mean.) One such V-day, my dad received a chocolate heart from two of his colleagues, who told him that they were giving it to him jointly, as a Valentine's day gift. To this, my dad's response was: "So, it's a half-hearted gift?" Unfortunately, the joke was lost in translation, but that doesn't prevent him from repeating it to us every time the topic of Valentine's day comes up.

Anyhow, getting back to V-day in Japan, on February 14, only men receive chocolates from women. This is then followed, a month later, by White day, when these men have to reciprocate the favor by offering gifts of white chocolate to the women who bought them dark chocolate on V-day. And keeping in line with the commercial nature of these celebrations, this return gift is expected to be three times as expensive as the original gift received! My thoughts on this whole exchange are best kept to myself, lest I convey the impression that I do not enjoy receiving exquisite gifts on Valentine's day or any other day, for that matter.

Anyhow, I think that's quite enough of rambling about Valentine's day. Now onto two recipes that I tried out on my friends recently during the spectacular Packers Superbowl win over the…the other team. The first was some delicate and beautiful chocolate crackle cookies, courtesy of Martha Stewart. The second is a red velvet cupcake with a white-chocolate rose frosting.

These pretty, fluffy sweet treats were just the thing to temper this otherwise nachos and dip-heavy testosterone-laden Superbowl party.

The chocolate crackle cookies were something that I've wanted to try for a long time, since they look oh so pretty. I followed this recipe to a 'T', and the cookies were just perfect. The reward for the slightly greater amount of work that these cookies demand was more than worth it. I think I will try adapting these to make ginger molasses cookies soon to use up a jar of molasses sitting in my fridge since Christmas!

If you wanted to make Red Velvet cake from scratch, I'm sure you can find tons of recipes online. I recently saw this, on the essentials of making a Red Velvet cake from scratch, but busy girl that I am, I decided to just use a cake mix. Using the instructions on the back on the package to make mini and regular cupcake yielded a delicious, moist, hard-to-resist end product. I decided to frost these with a little bit of white chocolate ganache (recipe follows), to which I added a touch of rose water, in keeping with the romance of the upcoming V-day.

So, this Valentine's day, if you find that Cupid has aimed his sugar-tipped arrow at you, I hope that you will try one of these recipes and then drop me a note! Bon app├ętit!

White Chocolate Rose Ganache Frosting

  • 8 ounces white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  1. Heat cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until you start to see tiny bubbles around the edges of the liquid; this is called scalding the cream.
  2. Pour hot cream onto chocolate.
  3. Mix to melt chocolate and refrigerate until chilled through, about 3 hours or more.
  4. Remove from refrigerator and add 3T rose water (optional).
  5. Using an electric mixer, beat on high speed until thick and creamy.
  6. Use immediately, or keep refrigerated upto 2 days.