Milk Street Valentine’s Day Treats

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Chocolate Meringue Cookies

Start to finish: 70 minutes (40 minutes active) | Makes 24 cookies

These rich, yet airy flourless chocolate cookies have crisp edges and chewy interiors. They rely on whipped egg whites for their structure. To ensure your whites attain the proper volume with beating, make sure the mixer bowl, whisk and the whisk attachment are perfectly clean and without any trace of grease or fat. Either Dutch-processed or natural cocoa works well in this recipe. Leftover cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days; the edges will lose their crispness but the cookies will still taste good.

Don’t omit the step of heating the egg whites and sugar over the saucepan of simmering water. This ensures the sugar fully dissolves so the cookies bake up with shiny, crisp exteriors. But also make sure you don’t overheat the mixture (100°F is the ideal temperature), which can cause the whites to cook. Also, the melted chocolate mixture should still be warm when you fold in the whipped egg whites. If it has cooled and thickened, it will be impossible to fold in the whites without deflating them. If needed, before folding in the whites, return the bowl of chocolate to the saucepan and re-melt the mixture.

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, divided
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) salted butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • 20 grams (¼ cup) cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 145 grams (⅔ cup) packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extra
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat the oven to 350°F with racks in the upper- and lower-middle positions. Line 2 baking sheets with kitchen parchment. Measure out 2½ ounces (½ cup) of the chopped chocolate and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over high, bring 1 inch of water to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. In a medium heatproof bowl, combine the remaining 5½ ounces chopped chocolate, the butter, cocoa and espresso powder. Set the bowl on the saucepan over the simmering water (the bottom of bowl should not touch the water) and let the mixture melt until completely smooth, stirring often with a silicone spatula. Set aside to cool slightly; keep the saucepan and water over the heat.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the egg whites, sugar, vanilla and salt. Set the bowl on the saucepan over the simmering water and, while whisking constantly, heat the mixture to 100°F. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip on medium-high until the mixture holds soft peaks when the whisk is lifted, 3 to 4 minutes.

Using a silicone spatula, fold ⅓ of the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture until almost completely combined. Add the remaining egg whites and fold until a few streaks of white remain. Add the reserved chopped chocolate and fold gently until no white streaks remain.

Drop the batter in 2-tablespoon mounds spaced 1½ inches apart on the prepared sheets. Bake until the tops have cracked but the interiors still looks moist, 12 to 14 minutes, switching and rotating the sheets halfway through. Cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely, about 30 minutes.


Chocolate Orange Tart

Start to finish: 2 hours (45 minutes active), plus cooling | Servings: 8

The ricotta cheese in this tart—inspired by one in Rose Carrarini’s book, “Breakfast, Lunch, Tea”—creates a deliciously creamy yet surprisingly light filling that highlights the orange and chocolate that flavor it. The crust, made partly with almond flour, has a sandy crispness that contrasts well with the filling. For do-ahead ease, the tart shell can be prepped, fitted in the pan, pricked all over, then frozen for up to two weeks; do not thaw before baking.

Don’t use skim-milk ricotta; whole-milk is needed for its richness and creamy consistency. Note that some ricottas will brown more than others, though still will taste fine. Those brands contain more lactose, which reacts with the proteins at high temperatures, causing browning. We liked Calabro, which is low in lactose. Also, don’t chop the chocolate too finely; tiny bits will melt into the filling rather than retain their shape. Aim for ¼-inch pieces.

INGREDIENTS

For the tart shell:

  • 130 grams (1 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 50 grams (½ cup) almond flour
  • 66 grams (⅓ cup) white sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons salted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and chilled
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • 74 grams (6 tablespoons) white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest plus 2 tablespoons orange juice (1 orange)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1½ cups (12 ounces) whole-milk ricotta
  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1½ ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat the oven to 300°F with a rack in the middle position. Mist a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom with cooking spray and set on a baking sheet.

In a food processor, combine both flours, the sugar and salt; process until combined, about 5 seconds. Scatter the butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand, 10 to 12 times. Add the yolk and vanilla, then process until the mixture is evenly moistened and cohesive, 20 to 30 seconds; the mixture may not form a single mass.

Crumble the dough into the tart pan, evenly covering the surface. Using a dry measuring cup, press the dough into an even layer over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Use a fork to prick all over the bottom and sides, then freeze until firm, at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour. Bake on the baking sheet until deep golden brown, 1 to 1¼ hours. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Increase the oven to 350°F.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In the empty food processor, combine the sugar, orange zest, salt and cinnamon; process until the sugar is moistened and fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the ricotta and process until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the egg, egg yolk, orange juice and vanilla, then process until combined, another 10 to 15 seconds. Set aside.

Pour the filling into the cooled, but still warm crust, then sprinkle evenly with the chocolate. Carefully slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake until the filling is slightly puffed at the edges but the center still jiggles lightly, 25 to 35 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack, about 2 hours.

Remove the outer ring from the tart pan. Serve at room temperature or chilled. If chilling, keep outer ring in place and chill 1 hour, or until the chocolate is set before loosely co rap. Tart can be refrigerated up to 2 days ahead.


Chocolate, Prune and Rum Cake

Start to finish: 1 hour and 20 minutes (30 minutes active), plus cooling

Servings: 12

Claire Ptak’s chocolate, prune and whiskey cake is deliciously gooey at the center. A ratio of 3:1 chocolate to butter—as well as 8 ounces of chopped pitted prunes—got us the same results. We preferred bar chocolates with 60 to 70 percent cacao (especially the Ghirardelli and Guittard brands) to chocolate chips, which contain stabilizers that changed the cake’s texture. Ptak uses almond flour—not an uncommon ingredient in flourless chocolate cakes like this, but certainly not a common ingredient in American homes. We reworked the cake a bit to leave it out and found the results just as good. Adding the egg yolks and whites separately made a big difference, too. Whipping the yolks helps maintain the emulsion of chocolate and butter; skipping that step produced an unpleasantly dense cake. And Ptak stressed to us the value of whipping the egg whites to soft peaks and just barely folding them into the batter. She originally made this cake with Armagnac, then switched to whiskey. We couldn’t easily find the for- mer, and the latter—while delicious once the cake was cooled—tasted harsh when the cake was warm (and this cake begs to be eaten warm). We found dark rum tasted delicious both warm or cool

INGREDIENTS

  • 9 tablespoons salted butter (1 tablespoon softened)
  • 8 ounces pitted prunes (about 1½ cups), finely chopped
  • ⅓ cup dark rum
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • ⅓ cup plus ¼ cup white sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the middle position. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan evenly with the tablespoon of softened butter.

In a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, combine the prunes, rum and molasses. Microwave until the rum is bubbling, 45 to 60 seconds. Let sit for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter. Remove from the heat and immediately add the chocolate, then whisk until melted and completely smooth. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and ⅓ cup of sugar until pale and glossy, about 30 seconds. Slowly add the melted chocolate mixture and continue whisking until smooth. Stir in the prune mixture.

Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whip the egg whites and salt on medium-high speed until light and foamy, about 1 minute. With the mixer running, slowly sprinkle in the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and continue to whip until the whites are thick and glossy and hold soft peaks, about 1 minute.

Whisk of the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Gently fold in the remaining whites with a rubber spatula until the batter is marbled but not fully blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. If needed, smooth the top with a spatula. Bake until the edges of the cake are firm and cracked, 35 to 40 minutes. The center will be just set, yet soft to the touch. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for at least 1 hour before serving (the cake will settle and sink as it cools).

Don’t over-bake this cake. Don’t be alarmed if the center still jiggles a bit and yields to gentle pressure; the cake will continue to set after it comes out of the oven.

PHOTO CREDIT: CONNIE MILLER OF CB CREATIVES