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Dress up plain chocolate layers for a cake worthy of your valentine

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014 9:14 p.m. CST
Caption
(Bill Hogan – Chicago Tribune)
Taking a basic chocolate cake and giving it a few simple embellishments turns it into the perfect Valentine's Day treat.

Love means never having to fuss over a Valentine’s Day dessert. It doesn’t mean ignoring the holiday’s sweet factor. Instead, take a basic chocolate cake and embellish it with pointers from a pastry pro, someone like Alice Medrich, author of “Seriously Bitter Sweet.”

“If you’re a pastry chef, you have this mental pantry of all kinds of cakes,” Medrich said.

Think sponge cakes, butter cakes. And fillings, perhaps jam or a tart fruit curd, a mousse or whipped cream. And finishes, of course, a frosting or glaze plus a bit of decoration, say heart-shaped cookies or a stenciled dusting of confectioners’ sugar.

Home bakers may not have a huge mental pantry, but they “do have some things that are tried-and-true that you love to make,” she said. You might take elements of those desserts and combine them in a new way.

“Plan the construction of the layers, flavors and textures so that when everything is put together, the result looks spectacular and tastes even better,” Medrich wrote.

Begin by baking a two-layer chocolate cake (a favorite recipe or a cake mix) or buying unfrosted layers from a bakery. Then choose one of the approaches here that suits your culinary skills.

Simple

Skill level: You can handle a knife, a narrow spatula and own a whisk or electric mixer.

You’ll need: Fruit preserves (in this case, strawberry) whipping cream, sugar, fresh strawberries, melted semisweet chocolate

How to do it

Spread: Place one cake layer on a serving plate. Spread with a fruit preserve, such as strawberry. Top with second cake layer.

Frost: Whip 1 cup heavy cream with 1 tablespoon sugar. Frost top with the whipped cream. Use a spatula or spoon to create decorative peaks.

Finish: Dip strawberry tips in melted chocolate. Let chocolate set. Place strawberries, tip up, in whipped cream.

Sort of simple

Skill level: You have an electric mixer (or muscles enough) for whipping butter with confectioners’ sugar and flavorings.

You’ll need: Your favorite basic vanilla buttercream frosting (or coffee-flavored or tinted pink), chopped glazed pecans or walnuts, chocolate curls.

How to do it

Spread: Place bottom layer on a serving plate. Spread with frosting. Sprinkle with chopped glazed nuts. Add top layer.

Crumb coat: Coat top and sides of cake with a thin layer of frosting; let rest. Frost top and sides of cake. Smooth.

Finish: Place chopped glazed nuts in a bowl. Hold frosted cake over bowl and carefully pat small handfuls of nuts onto sides of cake. Place chocolate curls atop cake.

If you like, arrange a few whole glazed nuts on top.

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