We’ve been trained to believe that Valentine’s Day is as much about chocolate as about love. Maybe so, but we often feel that chocolate desserts need a bit more love to really shine. This week we up the ante with a simplified take on a chocolate crostata that combines the classic pairing of chocolate and hazelnut for a rich filling with an easy pat-in-the-pan crust. Next we borrow a trick from Asian kitchens to create an unimaginably moist, tender chocolate cake using steam in a Dutch oven. And in a recipe from Italy’s Piedmont region, we crush and soak amaretti cookies in cream and coffee and bake them into a cocoa-enriched custard.
Chocolate-Hazelnut (Gianduja) Crostata
Makes 10 servings
If you like, dust the baked crostata with powdered sugar before serving, or top wedges with unsweetened whipped cream or crème fraîche. The crostata is best served the same day, but leftovers can be covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight.
Don’t underprocess the hazelnut and sugar mixture. Grinding it until fine and paste-like is key to the filling's thick, decadent texture.
1¼ cups (163 grams) hazelnuts
½ cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (35 grams) whole wheat flour
1 cup (214 grams) white sugar, divided
¼ teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) salted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and chilled
1 large egg yolk, plus 3 large egg whites
2½ teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
Heat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the lowest position. Mist a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray. Spread the hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, then toast until deep golden brown, about 10 minutes. Enclose the nuts in a kitchen towel and rub vigorously to remove the skins. Set aside.
In a food processor, combine both flours, ¼ cup of the sugar, the baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Process until combined, about 5 seconds. Scatter the butter over the mixture and pulse until it resembles coarse sand, 10 to 12 pulses. Add the egg yolk and ½ teaspoon of the vanilla extract, then process until evenly moistened and clumping together, 20 to 30 seconds.
Transfer the dough to the prepared pan; do not wash the food processor. Press the dough into an even layer and prick with a fork about every ½ inch. Bake until golden in the center and slightly darker at the edges, 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small microwave-safe bowl, microwave the chocolate on 50 percent power, stirring every 30 seconds, until smooth and melted. Set aside.
In the food processor, pulse the hazelnuts until roughly chopped, about 8 pulses; measure out ¼ cup and set aside. Add the remaining ¾ cup sugar and process until it resembles wet sand and sticks to the corners of the work bowl, about 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl. Add the egg whites, the remaining 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, the espresso powder, and ½ teaspoon salt. Process until smooth, about 10 seconds. Add the chocolate and process until incorporated, another 10 seconds, scraping the sides as needed.
Spread the hazelnut-chocolate mixture in an even layer on the crust, then sprinkle the reserved chopped nuts around the perimeter. Bake until slightly puffed and the edges begin to crack, 20 to 25 minutes.
Let cool on a wire rack until the edges pull away from the sides of the pan, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan sides. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Stove-Top Chocolate Cake
Makes 8 servings
If your Dutch oven has a self-basting lid—dimples or spikes on the underside—lay a sheet of parchment or foil over the top of the pot before putting the lid in place to prevent water from dripping onto the cake’s surface.
Don’t open the Dutch oven too often while steaming, but do ensure that the water is at a very gentle simmer. You should see steam emerging from the pot. If the heat is too high, the water will boil away before the cake is cooked.
1 cup (142 grams) all-purpose flour
⅓ cup (29 grams) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup packed (198 grams) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
½ cup sour cream
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) salted butter, melted
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Cut an 18-inch length of foil and gently scrunch together to form a snake about 1 inch thick. Shape into a circle and set on the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Add enough water to reach three-quarters up the coil. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray, line the bottom with kitchen parchment, then coat the parchment. Place the prepared pan on top of the coil.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda into a medium bowl, then whisk in the salt. In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs until slightly lightened, about 30 seconds. Whisk in ½ cup water, espresso powder, sour cream, butter, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and whisk gently until just combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Cover and heat on high until the water boils. Reduce heat to low and steam, covered, until the cake is just firm to the touch at the center, about 23 minutes.
Turn off the heat and remove the lid. Let the cake sit in the Dutch oven until the pan is cool enough to handle. Transfer the pan to a wire rack, then run a paring knife around the edges. Let the cake cool completely, then invert onto a plate and remove the parchment. Invert again onto another plate. Dust with powdered sugar or top with whipped cream (optional).
Italian Chocolate Custard with Amaretti (Bonet alla Piemontese)
Makes 6 servings
If you can’t find amaretti, substitute an equal amount of Stella D’oro Almond Toast. To crush the cookies, place them in a heavy-duty zip-close bag and pound them gently with a rolling pin. Either Dutch-processed or natural cocoa works in this recipe.
Don’t let the custard mixture cool before baking or the timing will be off. The baking time may also be affected by the temperature of the water bath, so use room-temperature, not hot or boiling, water. Don’t be surprised if a little caramel remains in the pan after the custard is unmolded; this is normal.
½ cup (107 grams) plus ⅓ cup (71 grams) white sugar
1½ cups heavy cream
½ cup brewed coffee
1 cup (100 grams) finely crushed amaretti cookies, plus crushed amaretti cookies for serving
⅓ cup (35 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs, plus 3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons dark rum
Heat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle position. In a medium saucepan, combine ¼ cup water and ½ cup sugar. Cook over medium, occasionally swirling the pan, until the sugar has dissolved, 3 to 4 minutes. Increase to medium-high and cook, gently swirling the pan, until the caramel is lightly smoking and dark amber in color, about 4 minutes. Carefully pour it into a 9-by-5-inch metal loaf pan and gently tilt to coat the bottom of the pan; set aside.
Pour the cream and coffee into the now-empty pan and bring to a bare simmer over medium. Add the crushed amaretti and whisk until the crumbs are softened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining ⅓ cup sugar, the cocoa, and salt. Whisk in the eggs, yolks, and rum. While whisking, gradually add the hot cream mixture. Pour the mixture into the caramel-lined loaf pan, then set the pan in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Pour enough room-temperature water into the outer baking dish to come about halfway up its sides, then carefully transfer to the oven. Bake until the center of the custard jiggles slightly when the loaf pan is gently shaken and a paring knife inserted at the center of the custard comes out mostly clean, 50 to 55 minutes.
Carefully remove the loaf pan from the water bath and set on a wire rack. Remove the baking dish from the oven and discard the water bath. Let the custard cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate, at least 2 hours or up to 1 day.
To serve, fill a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with about 1 inch of hot tap water. Uncover the loaf pan, place in the baking dish and let stand for about 5 minutes. Run a paring knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the custard. Invert onto a serving platter, then lift off the pan. Garnish with additional crushed amaretti. Cut into slices and serve.
Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to 177milkstreet.com/globe. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.