Valentine’s Day is a holiday that sparks division. Nowhere is this great divide more keenly evident than on a sugar cookie platter. With less than a week remaining, the countdown to February 14th feels less sentimental this year, a touch snarkier than in years past. Are we falling out of love with Cupid’s heart-driven holiday?
Much like New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day wants us to plan appropriately. Plans dependent upon long-stemmed roses and dinner for two at over-booked restaurants, generally yield over-priced mediocrity. I am not shy in voicing my opinion that second to Mother’s Day, Valentine’s is the holiday when dinner is best eaten at home, perhaps attired in the Pajama-grams you received in December.
February 14th and I have spent far too many retail days and nights together for me to embrace the holiday with enthusiasm. I will readily accept ownership of tossing the words “I Tolerate You” over my shoulder a few years back, when searching for a suitable flourless chocolate cake inscription. It should also be noted that I did not flinch when the conversation heart cookies took a turn from saccharine to sarcastic, when pastels were replaced by somber gray. This year, however, we’ve reached a tipping point.
Sugar cookies proclaiming their love are being elbowed off the yellow Fiestaware platter by conversation hearts sneering “not ever” and “you wish.” Cynicism penned in royal icing mirrors the way we’re feeling; far less sweet, infinitely more agitated about the world in general. Does this mean we should give Cupid the boot? Not necessarily.
Perhaps a healthier approach to February 14th is simply embracing it for what it is; an excuse to eat chocolate. And there’s plenty of stellar chocolate from which to choose. Unless you are tethered to the heart-shaped boxes filled with mediocre chocolates available at your neighborhood pharmacy/megastore, there are far better alternatives. You can start with the oversized Pound Plus block of bittersweet chocolate from Trader Joes. While you’re there, grab a small container of buttermilk, some butter, a little heavy cream, and a carton of eggs.
Chocolate Chess Pie can sweeten the Hallmark holiday that many of us love to hate. Why Chess Pie? Because it doesn’t require a huge time commitment and the end result is scrumptious. Based on humble ingredients, Chess Pie originally hailed from England before traveling across the pond and taking up residency in New England and throughout the south. Prone to many variations, Chess Pie is a custard pie, known for being a little heavy-handed with the sugar. Similar to many humble pies, its ease in preparation stemmed from the fact that the pie relied on four season ingredients that were available in most kitchen pantries. Over time, the early recipe morphed into variations incorporating the ingredients we liked best.
My long-time relationship with Chocolate Chess Pie played out at Philadelphia's Cafette restaurant. I lost count of the number of pies I baked there, but Chocolate Chess was a perennial favorite. Walnuts were key to the pie’s experience, but can certainly be omitted. Some versions include both nuts and raisins, but since we’re on this side of the pond, our enthusiasm for raisins in baked goods is lackluster. Either way, select a good-quality bittersweet chocolate and spike it with espresso and vanilla. Traditional Chess pie recipes instruct you to whisk some cornmeal into the filling, but as a pie rule breaker, I prefer to toss the cornmeal into the piecrust instead.
As someone with a chocolate-covered cherry Valentine’s history, (thanks, Dad) boozy cherries make a fine addition to this pie. Ditto for a sensible dollop of unsweetened whipped cream and a tall glass of bubbles.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm