Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Baking

Flourless dark chocolate mini cake.

Today was Valentine's Day in Japan since we get there first. (We're a day ahead of the U.S.) Last year, I talked about how Valentine's Day is different in Japan and so did every other blogger who has ever talked about the holiday in Japan so I'm not going into it again.

Personally, everyday is like Valentine's Day for me. I know, it's a horrible cliché, but what would you call living with a husband who says he loves me everyday several times a day and spontaneously surprises me with little gifts on occasion? I don't keep annoying people by saying he's perfect without valid reasons. So, this is pretty much just another (happy) day for me. (Note: After composing this post, my husband returned home from work with a little cheesecake for me making this an extra happy day. He's a sweetie!)

That being said, there are a lot of very good recipes out there for chocolate goodies at this time of year and I decided to try something new for the fun of it. I didn't necessarily make this as a Valentine's treat though I guess the spirit of the occasion inspired me.

Keeping in mind that my husband and I had a ton of dark chocolates leftover from Christmas gift-giving, I decided to track down a recipe for something that utilizes dark chocolate and came across a flourless mini cake recipe. The result is an immensely rich, light, and intensely chocolatey morsel of a cake which requires some sort of cream to balance the taste of what can only be described as a chocolate bomb. I served it with whipped cream but I think it'd do just as well with regular cream or ice cream. Even though I had to unwrap about 30 tiny dark chocolate squares, melt them down, and strain out cocoa nibs that were embedded in them to make this, the recipe turned out very well. Clearly, no special baking dark chocolate is required though I will note that the chocolates I used were Ghirardelli (from San Francisco) and European in origin. They were not Japanese.

A carton of (Sujata) "whip".

I knew I was going to make this several days ago and had been looking around for what is commonly referred to as "whip" or "cake whip" in Japan. The advantage of this whip stuff over cream is that it's much cheaper. Real cream is between 270 ($2.50) and 400 ($3.70) yen a carton whereas the "whip" is between 99 (91 cents) and 180 ($1.66) yen.

The "whip" also whips up into whipping cream much more effectively than regular cream (of all percentages) and I'm sure it's very bad for you, likely worse for you than actual cream. Nonetheless, as long as you're not eating it all the time, I'm sure it's not a bad infrequent and economical indulgence. If you decide to buy this stuff in Japan, keep in mind that it's not sweetened or flavored. You need to add a bit of vanilla and sugar (or artificial sweetener) to it. It'll also stay whipped up longer if you put in a teaspoon of pectin, though it will still eventually separate and fall flat if you keep it for more than a few days.

The funny thing is that this "whip" stuff is usually easy to buy, but because of the holiday, it was hard to locate a shop near me with any in stock. While part of the commercialism in Japan for this holiday is chocolates, the other part is homemade treats. Small basic sponge cakes are sold so that they can be adorned with fruit (usually strawberries), chocolates or sauces, and whipped cream. Baking supplies are also displayed prominantly.

Students have told me that actually baking something for someone on Valentine's Day is more of a romantic gesture than simply giving them chocolate, but I can't say they speak for everyone.


Valentine Booty

Click this picture to see a larger one with better detail. That's my baby cheesecake on the far right.

My husband brought home the collection of chocolate above over the last few days. One of the items, a Harrod's chocolate bar, is not technically a Valentine's Day gift, but my husband was given it the day before. His students and coworkers were quite generous. While everything is appreciated, some of the items are more curious than others. The "cheese chocolate" contains a bunch of little foil wrapped "mice" and is almost too cute to eat. The large box of "Royce Potechi Crunch Chocolate" contains chocolate covered corn flakes, cookie crunch bits, and potato chips (hence the "potechi" part). The quote on the box says, "by breaking down old customs and producing consistently original items we are pursuing a new level in chocolate enjoyment."

Here's to new levels of chocolate enjoyment!


Sherry said...

Oh, the homemade goodies! The cooking schools here do a booming business this time of year teaching women how to make a chocolate homemade goody for the love of their life, don't they? It kind of baffles me why they can't just find a good recipe and make it at home, but there is the whole idea that you have to be taught something. You can't just learn it on your own.

Your chocolate treat looks yummy.

Shari said...

Sherry: Hi there and thanks for commenting!

A few of my students have gone to cooking school and are always surprised that I haven't. Similarly, they're shocked that I taught myself how to use and maintain computers. I sometimes think it's a reflection of a general lack of confidence in themselves and they could self-teach if they believed they had it in them.

That being said, they probably learn better and more thoroughly than others (and with fewer failures) via formal instruction. With cooking though, I think part of the reason they go to school is their mothers cook for them for a long time relative to foreign folks who learn to fend for themselves in the kitchen more early and often.

The flourless cake is yummy, but very intense. It makes you want to eat nothing but bland food. ;-)