As a youngster in elementary school, I enjoyed exchanging cards and candy with my friends while eating cupcakes and cheese doodles off heart-shaped plates. But once I grew up, Valentine’s Day seemed all hype and no heart.
Take the obligatory Valentine’s Day dinner, for example. I have never felt anything other than pressure in the air while sitting among other couples nibbling on their dimly lit, overpriced five courses. Love has nothing to do with the overblown expectations of elaborately boxed chocolates, dozens of red roses, and heart-shaped jewelry.
Don’t even get me started on the clichéd Valentine’s Day desserts ending those expensive meals: oozing molten lava cake, chocolate mousse with a single raspberry on top, white chocolate roses for garnish, and the biggest culprit of them all – chocolate-covered strawberries, especially chocolate-covered strawberries dressed like tuxedos. It is February. Strawberries are not in season, and THEY DO NOT WEAR CLOTHES.
Valentine’s Day creates a wide divide among our society: on one side are those that celebrate it and on the other side are those that annihilate it. This isn’t just a couples versus singles issue. I know plenty of friends in secure, loving relationships who roll their eyes and call Valentine’s Day “a Hallmark holiday.”
As you can tell, I’m mostly on the annihilate side. Well, until I met my husband. I know what you think I’m going to say, “I met my husband and everything changed! SWOON!” Nope. I still don’t believe in all the hype, but he did change my mind about the essence, the heart of the day when he presented me with a poem on our first Valentine’s Day together. Because the poem was so full of playful language and internal rhyme and wasn’t accompanied by any tuxedo-ed strawberries, I knew we would be together for possibly forever. (In fact, he proposed three days later.) This was the line that got me:
“I found a perfect and most precious little rose of red…the red I saw, such red as this, that each petal claimed as art would take da Vinci seven Lisa’s just for a head start”
So while we won’t be going out for a romantic dinner on or near February 14, we will celebrate the day in our way: he will write me a poem and I will cook something special.
This year, just for him, I perfected the most clichéd Valentine’s Day dessert of all time – chocolate cake – by combining it with his favorite beverage, BEER! But not just any beer – the aptly named Afternoon Delight, a coffee-infused porter brewed locally by Iron Hill Brewery.
All the hype aside, I guess I do see the heart in Valentine’s Day, especially since I’m blessed to spend it with my poem-writing, beer-loving husband. (Let’s just hope he doesn’t buy me any tuxedo-ed strawberries this year.)
Porter-Infused Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Whipped Cream (a.k.a Afternoon Delight)
Adapted from this recipe on Smitten Kitchen. I used less flour, less sugar, a different beer, and added chocolate chips.
1 cup porter or stout (Any super dark beer will do here. Although I made this with Iron Hill’s Belgian Tripel as well, and it was delicious.)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or spray a 9 inch pan or a bundt pan ( I used a springform pan because I couldn’t find my bundt pan. It’s not as pretty as a bundt cake but it does the job.) Bring the porter and the butter to a simmer over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add porter-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on low speed. Add the chocolate chips. Using a rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool cake completely in the pan before turning it onto a serving dish.
For the whipped cream:
Pour the heavy cream into a chilled bowl. Using a whisk and some elbow grease, whisk the cream until peaks are just about to form. Add the confectioners sugar and the vanilla and continue to whisk until stiff peaks form. Serve a dollop or two on top of the cake.