VALENTINE’S DAY TREATS
By Janice Denham | Posted: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 12:00 am
Jane Muscroft, of Queen’s Cuisine, said Valentine’s Day was more for secret admirers than everyday loves during her school years in England.
“Every year you waited and hoped you would receive a card from one,” said the native of Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, famous for pork pies and Stilton cheese.
Her mum reports that England is catching up on romantic traditions with flowers on Feb. 14. Her sister, who lives in London, said restaurants can be a popular destination, like afternoon tea with champagne at the Ritz for $50.
Neither relative has seen another specialty there that causes U.S. taste buds to tingle and hearts to throb on Valentine’s Day: Chocolate-covered strawberries.
Muscroft, who lives with her family in Glen Carbon, shares British tea and foods at the Oatman House Tea Room in Collinsville, sells scones at the Land of Goshen Community Market in Edwardsville and teaches at Dierbergs School of Cooking in both Illinois and Missouri.
“There is no restriction on what you can dip into the chocolate,” she said. “Strawberries are one of the nicer specialty uses, because you can hold onto their leaves.”
A trip to San Francisco last year inspired her to use Ghirardelli chips to test her preference for dipping.
“The semisweet suit my palate. The milk chocolate was overly sweet and the 60-percent (cacao) was too dark,'” Muscroft said. She added that other brands listing “cocoa butter” among ingredients could be acceptable.
Here is her easy process for sharing a treat with not-so-secret valentines:
– Heat chips to 110 degrees (they stir very, very easily), then stir in more chips to cool the mixture to 80 degrees (it feels stiff below 80 degrees). Holding the heat at 90 degrees provides a glossy surface and texture that snaps.
– Water hardens chocolate, so never mix them. Wash and completely dry fresh fruit before dipping. Blot the bottom of damp bowls. Use a dry, flexible spatula.
To melt chocolate, use the top of a double boiler. Even better, fit a stainless steel bowl over hot, not even simmering, water to avoid moisture creeping into it.
To melt small amounts of chocolate in a microwave oven, start at 30 seconds on high power, then stir. Continue to heat in 15-second increments, stirring after it each time, until chips melt and lose their form.
White chocolate is more delicate, so it should be melted in a double boiler, not a microwave oven.
– Hold a piece of fruit by an available edge in a spoon or from a fork. Let excess drip, then place the item on parchment paper spread on a rack. Sprinkles can be added to still-soft chocolate.
– Treats set in a few minutes, firm in an hour or two. Refrigerating hastens the process.
Heart shapes are key on Valentine’s Day. Muscroft shares her heart-shaped Scottish shortbread, a better keeper than fresh fruit.
SCOTTISH SHORTBREAD HEARTS DIPPED IN CHOCOLATE
2 cups (10 oz.) wheat flour
1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp. (5 oz.) sugar
1-1/4 cups (2-1/2 sticks; 10 oz.) butter
1 cup minus 2 tbsp. (5 oz.) rice flour
1 cup melted chocolate
About 1/4 cup sprinkles, if desired
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
In separate bowl, stir together wheat and rice flour. Gradually stir into creamed mixture until consistency of bread crumbs. Work by hand until dough is pliable.
Turn dough onto floured board. Knead a little. Roll out dough and cut in heart shapes. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets.
Bake cookies in preheated oven just until edges brown slightly – about 27 minutes for small (check earlier for thinner cookies), 37 for large.
Let cool completely.
Dip into chocolate. Decorate with sprinkles before chocolate sets.
Makes 50 small or 12 large shortbread cookies.