Plan A Great Dessert for Your Valentine

Where romance is concerned, it's never too early to start thinking about food to go with it.  That's why I'd like to give you a head start on your plans for a Valentine's Day treat.  Chocolate, as we all know, is the most traditional treat to give to the one you love.  Most people begin and end their efforts, however, by buying a box of store-bought chocolates.  This year, I suggest that you do something different: Make an amazing chocolate dessert for your Valentine.  It's easy if you follow my recipe for Chocolate Souffle Bread Pudding.  And nothing is likely to impress him or her more.  Now, don't get anxious at the sight of that word "souffle".  Yes, making most traditional souffle recipes can seem like risky business, rising and then sometimes falling in spite of your most diligent efforts.  But the version I share with you here is a tried and true old Austrian recipe that's a hybrid between the usual airy souffle and a bread pudding.  Unlike the latter home-style dessert, however, the bread in this recipe is soaked in cream and then processed along with butter, egg yolks, ground almond, sugar and melted chocolate until smoothly pureed.  Folded together with the beaten egg whites, it gives the souffle more substance and stability.  So, although the dessert rises a bit, it will also have the smooth, rich, satisfying texture of true comfort food.  Isn't that a wonderful combination of sensation to share with your Valentine?  With more than a week until the big day, you'll have plenty of time to get ready to make this dessert.  The most important ingredients for successful results are the chocolate and the bread.  Look for a really good-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate with a cocoa butter content of at least 70 percent.  Reliable choices, available in gourmet shops and well-stocked supermarkets, include European brands such as Valrhona and Callebaut, as well as top American chocolates such as Scharffen Berger.  There are also more and more boutique chocolate brands springing up everywhere, so keep an eye open for them when you shop and read labels to make sure you buy one with sufficient cocoa butter to guarantee the desired creamy results.  As for the bread, look in good bakeries for a loaf rich in eggs and butter.  French-style Brioche is an exceellent choice, coming close as yeast bread can to being cake while still being bread.  Jewish-style challah bread also works very well.  The quantities given in the recipe yield 6 individual servings of 1/2 cup each- enough for the seconds many chocolate lovers will want, and one each extra to reheat gently, or even eat cold, for breakfast the next morning.  And why not keep Valentine's Day going into February 15? 

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