This is NOT a Valentine’s Day Cake

Ok, yes, well maybe it looks like that. But trust me, it’s not.

This is Julia Turshen’s ultra luxurious and wicked simple coffee-scented chocolate cake. It’s filled with cherry preserves, drenched in a sour cream chocolate frosting, and topped with chocolate amaretti cookies, gold sprinkles, and freeze-dried strawberries. And it just so happens to be shaped like a heart, deal with it.

So why is this chocolate heart cake not a Valentine’s Day cake? Because Valentine’s Day puts people on edge and I don’t want that energy associated with this cake. Single people feel left out for the entire day, couples worry about making sure they are “doing enough,” and if you’re not fretting over it, you’re enraged by made-up-holiday consumerism. It’s ridiculous and nobody wins, especially when you’re me at age 13 and just bought a pair of heinous red suede Nike sneakers with hearts on them because you’re stupidly obsessed with this holiday for some reason. So that is why this is not a Valentine’s Day cake.

However, being in the shape of a heart, and being such a sweet and tasty and happy cake, maybe when we eat it we can remind ourselves of the importance of love and compassion. And not just for this one day, but for every day and everyone. A life of love, towards others, towards the planet, towards our own self, is always something to be happy about. And a definite cause for cake, especially this magical little cake. So tell people you love them, do something that makes a difference, and don’t be afraid to even treat yo self, because why not. Happy…er…um… Day. Yes, Happy Day… or whatever. Just make this cake.

Not a Valentine’s Day Cake / Quasi Black Forest Cake
Slightly adapted from Julia Turshen’s Small Victories

For the Cake
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
¾ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1 cup strong coffee, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Frosting
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
¾ cup room temperature sour cream
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract

To assemble and decorate
½ cup cherry preserves
crushed amaretti cookies
freeze dried strawberries (optional)
gold sprinkles (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch cake pans (or one heart pan) and line the bottom with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in the melted butter, eggs, coffee, buttermilk, and vanilla. Whisk until combined.

Divide the batter between the two pans or one pan if that’s all you have. Bake for 30 minutes (40-45 if you’re just using the one pan) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place on a cooling rack and once completely cool, remove from the pan and peel off the parchment paper. If you baked in just one pan, horizontally cut the cake in half after it cools.

While the cakes are baking, make the frosting. Set up a double boiler by placing a mixing bowl over a simmering pot of water without letting the bowl touch the water. Add the chocolate chips to the bowl and stir until completely melted. Remove the bowl from the pot and stir in the sour cream, maple syrup, and vanilla. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

To assemble the cake, spread the cherry preserves over half and place the other half on top. Use a small offset spatula to spread 1/3 of the frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate for 15 minutes until the frosting sets a bit. This keeps the final layer of frosting from picking up cake crumbs. Spread the rest of the frosting over the cake and refrigerate at least another hour. Serve with the garnishes sprinkled overtop.

Mexican Hot Chocolate for that February Holiday

In the days following this past Christmas, the spam emails that regularly flood my inbox emerged like virtual heart-shaped confetti bombs in rosy reds and shades of pink. A loopy script font informed me that is was almost Valentine’s Day. Wonderful.

I guess you could say that it’s not exactly my thing. In a world filled with those that swoon over Jane Austen romance, I’m the outcast in the corner reaching for the existential crises of Kafka. Though I may not be much of a romantic, it’s not at all that I’m against love itself or the act of showing it. Far from it, in fact! It’s more so the hyper-idyllic representations of what we “should” be doing to show our love, especially on this one specific day, that get on my nerves a bit. My aversion to roses doesn’t help either, I’m afraid.

My Valentine’s Day angst used to come from always being the one without a valentine, though I’m sure many of us been there. But when I finally had that stereotypical Valentine’s Day experience, it was one of those things where a lot of hype and build-up to this romantic holiday led to an underwhelming resolve. I couldn’t help but feeling like I was tricked into doing the same loving things I would normally do in a relationship but spending a lot more money in the process.

As a way to maybe appease the changed but still somewhat harsh attitude I have towards this Hallmark holiday, I now unofficially treat February 14th as Eat-all-the-chocolate-you-possibly-can-in-one-sitting Day instead. Trust me, it makes that invasive scent of roses in the air much more digestible.

This year, I celebrate my version of Valentine’s Day with this cinnamon and cayenne spiced Mexican hot chocolate with vanilla whipped cream. It’s intensely rich and chocolately and almond extract adds those cherry notes that complement the sweet warmth of the cinnamon so well. It’s the kind of hot chocolate meant to be savored and the mug meant to be clutched to the heart with both hands so that the tantalizing scents of the spices dance their way to the nose as frequently as possible.

While I see this drink as the next best thing to a chocolate IV hooked up to my veins, most of you are probably hoping that it will help to defrost my icy frozen heart as well. Any maybe you’re right and later today I’ll be visited by the ghosts of Valentine’s past, present, and future, but for now I’ll happily ride this chocolate high through to the end of the day. Happy V-day errbody.

Mexican Hot Chocolate
Serves 4-6
Adapted slightly from Bon Appetit

3 cups whole milk
3 cinnamon sticks broken into pieces
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
½ tsp. almond extract
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
pinch of salt
1 cup whipping cream
½ tsp. vanilla extract

Combine the milk and the cinnamon stick pieces in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Allow to simmer for about 10 minutes, whisking occasionally. Whisk in the chocolate, sugar, almond extract, cayenne, and salt. Allow to simmer for about 5 more minutes, stirring often, until creamy and heated through. Whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks and stir in the vanilla. Pour the hot chocolate into mugs and serve with the whipped cream.