Creating unforgettable sweets for your sweetie on the sweetest day takes a little ingenuity, and for this we turn to a few extraordinary French liqueurs. Think the likes of Chambord, Cointreau and Grand Marnier.
Chambord, made in the fertile and rich Loire Valley, is a luscious black raspberry liqueur infused with red raspberries, blackberries and currants, and is finished with notes of vanilla, honey and ginger.
"With the flavors of berry, vanilla, honey, herbs and sweet aromatics, Chambord lends itself to a host of desserts and savory dishes," says Tim Laird, chief entertaining officer for Louisville's Brown-Forman, one of America's largest wine and spirits companies. "Anything chocolate such as cupcakes, brownies or truffles make for perfect pairings."
The ambrosial characteristics of Chambord's top notes of raspberry are delicious as an aperitif or digestif for a romantic dinner, but it also pairs perfectly if not remarkably well with dark and bittersweet chocolate, as Laird suggests. That means when it comes to baking it may be used in a number of ways.
If your recipe calls for rum- or gin-soaked raisins, for example, substitute Chambord. Tired of vanilla flavoring in all your recipes? Chambord is sort of sexy surrogate for vanilla, adding ooh la la to any cookie or brownie recipe. Laird also says it can be added to marinades for savory dishes such as pork or added to cranberry sauce to accompany turkey dinners.
Adds Laird, "One of the easiest desserts is to add a little Chambord to whipped cream as a topper for cakes, pies, tarts or fresh fruit. I also like to use Chambord when making a raspberry sauce. Simply blend together fresh or frozen raspberries with sugar to taste and add Chambord. The Chambord takes the raspberry flavors to new heights."
Cointreau is another sweet favorite liqueur. One of the great things about Valentine's Day is that it is during winter, the prime season for fresh citrus and citrus flavors like Cointreau. Blended with sweet and bitter orange peels, Cointreau is a lovely spirit that brings home golden, fruity warmth.
"Cointreau is not only a key ingredient in making the best cocktails, especially for Valentine's Day," said a Cointreau representative, "but also it is a wonderful product for cooking."
Of course, like most French liqueurs, Cointreau pairs well with decadent chocolate desserts, but with sweet and salty undertones, it can be sprinkled with a touch of olive oil on a citrus-based salad. And for your next seafood dish, whether for lobster, scallops or crab, it can be blended with butter for a more savory dish.
Then there's Grand Marnier, an elegant floral and fragrant orange peel-based cognac from France. Sweet and strong, Grand Marnier is long on citrus with hints of oak and brown sugar. It's a real burst of flavor, a smidge more robust than Cointreau, so a little goes a long way.
While it dazzles in desserts, try mixing it with butter and marmalade for a quick spread that's delicious on crusty French bread — or use it as a base with peanut butter for a surprisingly good adult-style PB&J. Or add just a touch — a teaspoon or two at the most — in buttercream frostings, cupcakes, muffins and fruitcake. It works well as a glaze for poultry, too.
Now for the Valentine's finish: cap off your amorous evening with a half ounce, maybe an ounce at the most, of Chambord, Cointreau and Grand Marnier trickled into the bottom of a flute glass, and then top it with good, no, make that great Champagne.
Other French liqueurs that work well with Champagne — and in cooking — are Benedictine with its unusual and exotic blend of 27 plants and spices, St.-Germain with its incredible elderflower scent and floral sweetness, or the rare Creme Yvette, with its subtle flavors of violets and vanilla.
Whether you're cooking or sipping, French-inspired liqueurs make quite the splash.
Chambord black raspberry brownies
1 box devil's food cake mix
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup oil
¼ cup water
¼ cup Chambord
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ cup confectioner's sugar, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick foil. Combine cake mix, eggs, oil, water and Chambord. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour into prepared baking pan and smooth. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool to room temperature before cutting. Dust with confectioner's sugar (optional) and slice brownies into 3-inch squares. Top with ice cream and 3 to 4 ounces of Chambord. Makes 12 servings.
Chocolate Chambord souffle
3 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons Chambord
2 cups heavy cream
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
Place egg yolks in large mixing bowl. Combine sugar and water and bring to a boil for 1 minute on stove. Pour sugar mixture over egg yolks, and mix well. Mix in Chambord. Set aside.
In separate bowl, whip 1 cup heavy cream to medium peaks. Using a mixer, whisk egg and Chambord mixture until thick and pale, about 2 to 3 minutes. Melt chocolate and butter in a bowl set over saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time. Remove bowl from heat and let cool until tepid.
Fold egg mixture and whipped cream into the chocolate mixture until just combined. Spoon into favorite stemware, or serving bowl. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Can be made a day ahead.
Before serving, whip remaining heavy cream with confectioner's sugar until stiff peaks form. Garnish mousse with whipped cream and fresh mint sprigs.
Cointreau's Prosecco zepolas with dark hazelnut chocolate
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
¼ cup hazelnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream
¼ cup Cointreau
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Zest of 1 orange
Canola oil for frying
2 cups boxed beignet or doughnut mix
Prosecco, about 7 ounces, to be used as a leavening
All-purpose flour for rolling dough
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
Make a thick ganache by stirring together chocolate, hazelnuts and cream over a double boiler on medium-low heat. Fill pastry bag with chocolate and attach a small round tip.
For the syrup, reduce Cointreau, sugar, juices and zest.
Heat oil to about 370 degrees. Make beignet or doughnut mix according to package directions, substituting Prosecco for water. Form 2-inch-by-1-inch shapes of dough and fry about 8 to 10 seconds or until lightly browned on each side.
When cooled, pipe chocolate mixture into center of zepolas. Drizzle top with syrup. Garnish with sesame seeds.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
3¼ ounces granulated sugar, plus additional for dusting bowls
1½ ounces unsalted butter, chilled
3 ounces bread flour
7½ ounces (just shy of a cup) whole milk
2 small egg yolks
1 tablespoon Cointreau
1 tablespoon grated navel orange zest
4½ ounces egg whites
1½ ounces granulated sugar
½ ounce cornstarch
Preheat oven to 380 degrees. Butter and sugar 6 small souffle bowls; set aside. Combine 3¼ ounces sugar, butter and bread flour in mixing bowl and beat until mealy. Bring milk to boil in saucepan; stir in flour mix, and then transfer to mixing bowl. Whisk in yolks, Cointreau and orange zest; reserve.
Place egg whites in separate mixing bowl; beat at medium speed to soft peaks; add 1½ ounces sugar and cornstarch; beat until stiff. Fold into yolk mixture. Fill souffle bowls to one-quarter below rims. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with ice cream. Makes 6 servings.