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FOLK Valentine's Day

Ben Ashby

Valentine’s seems to be that one little holiday that everyone either loves or well...doesn’t. While I do enjoy Valentine’s day, I’ll admit it can be a bit silly and sometimes it causes people to go over board buying boxes of expensive chocolates, big bouquets of red roses, giant teddy bears and maybe even diamonds, all to show someone you love them. Me? Well, that’s not my thing. Do we really need all those costly, fancy things to tell someone how much they mean to us? And while we’re on the subject, why can’t we make that same effort everyday to show the love we have for each other- minus all the stuff of course? Someone once told me they were committed to living Valentine’s day year-round. Not only because they like the colors pink and red so much (go figure), but because they want to feel that same amount of love everyday and always tell their friends and family how important they are to them. Imagine how wonderful it would be to live in a world like that, where everyone can put our differences aside and constantly show each other love and kindness. 

This brings me to the second (and totally less serious) reason why I enjoy Valentine’s day so much, the sweets! I could never bake enough red velvet and chocolate-y desserts. My sweet tooth really kicks in this time of year but in all honesty, to me, food is love. Maybe a lot of that has to do with being Italian and Greek and it’s instilled in us at an early age, but also there is something so fulfilling to me about spending time in the kitchen baking for my loved ones and being able to give them something I made with my own hands. From my kitchen to yours, I am sharing my 4 favorite Valentine’s day recipes that bring pure joy to my heart to be able to share with my dear family and friends on February 14th. What do you bake for the ones you love?


For little kids and pink lovers alike, this pink velvet cake with white chocolate ganache is the perfect Valentine’s day treat. Let’s be honest, does it get anymore fun than pink cake? If you’re making your cake in a heart shaped pan you may have leftover batter depending on the size, so feel free to use it to make a few cupcakes as well.

Pink Velvet Cake

1 cup butter, softened

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/8 teaspoon pink paste food coloring

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

White Chocolate Ganache

2 cups white baking chips

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 Tablespoon butter

In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar and food coloring until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium sized bowl; add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating well after each addition.

Fill greased, medium sized heart shaped pan or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. For cake, bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes (this is for a medium sized heart shaped cake pan, adjust baking time based on size, bake until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean). For cupcakes, bake at 350 degrees F for 23-27 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

Meanwhile, place the white chips in a small bowl. In a small saucepan, bring cream just to a boil. Pour over chips; whisk until smooth. Stir in butter. Transfer to a large bowl. Chill for 30 minutes, stirring once.

Beat on high speed for 2-3 minutes or until soft peaks form and frosting is light and fluffy. Frost cake/cupcakes. Store in refrigerator.

Being that red velvet is one of my all time favorite desserts, these sinfully delicious chocolate-filled red velvet cupcakes topped with cream cheese frosting can always be found somewhere in the kitchen this time of year. Grab one and prepare to indulge!

Chocolate-Filled Red Velvet Cupcakes

1 cup milk chocolate pieces

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon butter

1 egg

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons red food coloring

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon white vinegar

For filling, in small saucepan combine chocolate pieces, cream and 1 Tablespoon butter. Stir over low heat until chocolate is melted. Transfer to small bowl; cool for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and freeze about one hour, until fudge-like consistency. Divide into 12 portions and working quickly with hands, roll each portion into a ball. Place in freezer. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with 12 paper bake cups. In a small bowl stir together flour, cocoa powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt; set aside. In a medium mixing bowl beat the 1/4 cup softened butter with mixer on medium to high for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar; beat on medium until combined. Beat on medium 2 minutes more, scraping side of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, food coloring and vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk, beating on low until combined. In a small bowl combine baking soda and vinegar; stir into batter. Divide half of the batter among the cups. Place a ball of filling on batter in center of each cup and spoon remaining batter into cups. Bake 15-18 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched. Remove and cool 10 minutes. Serve warm or cool completely and top with cream cheese frosting. Makes 12 cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and room temperature.

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place cream cheese in a medium mixing bowl. Using a rubber spatula, soften cream cheese. Gradually add butter and continue beating until smooth and well blended. Sift in confectioner’s sugar and continue beating until smooth. Add vanilla and stir to combine. Yields about 2 cups.

I’ve been so blessed to grow up with such a wonderful, talented and supportive family. My father went to the Culinary Institute of America and over the years I’ve enjoyed learning as much as I can from his knowledge of food to help me in my own career. This recipe for chocolate mousse was one he learned from a charcuterie chef when he was in school (strange, right?!). He then taught me how to make this incredibly decadent and in my opinion, best chocolate mousse ever. I’ve watched my father make this recipe by hand numerous times. Imagine the arm strength required to whip that cream and those egg whites by hand...amazing. I had to cheat and use a mixer but still, this one is for you Dad, I love you!  

Chocolate Mousse

9 ounces unsweetened chocolate

9 ounces sugar

9 egg yolks

9 egg whites

1/2 cup water

1 quart heavy cream

Melt chocolate in a double boiler and keep hot in the corner of the stove. Separate eggs and yolks and put each in its own bowl. Whip the heavy cream until it’s stiff (peaks and stays) and chill in a stainless steel bowl. Mix the water and sugar in a small sauce pan and cook to the thread. Start whipping the egg whites until stiff. While they’re whipping, when the sugar mixture is complete pour it over the egg yolks and whip immediately until it starts to foam bubbles. Pour the hot, melted chocolate over the yolk and sugar mixture and with a spatula, gently fold them together until well mixed. Do not whip. With a spatula, fold the stiff egg whites into this mixture. Do not whip. Gently fold in the whipped cream with a spatula, until the color is uniform. Again, be careful not to whip. Put in cups and refrigerate before serving.

Top your chocolate mousse with some beautiful, frosted fruit for a pretty, wintery garnish that you can eat!

Frosted Fruit

2 teaspoons dried egg whites

1-2 packages of your desired fruit (I used raspberries and strawberries)

2 Tablespoons warm water

Superfine sugar

In a medium sized bowl, whisk the dried egg whites and warm water with a balloon whisk until foamy. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place the washed and dried fruit on it. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg whites over the fruit, covering them evenly and completely. Sprinkle the superfine sugar over the berries and cover completely. Let the fruit dry for at least a couple hours until the sugar has hardened and becomes crisp.

Breakfast in bed. Ok, it’s kind of a cliche Valentine’s day tradition, but come on, who doesn’t love breakfast in bed! This simple pancake recipe is the perfect ‘breakfast in bed food’. Mixing cinnamon and chocolate chips into your batter spices them up and adds a touch of romance while making it easier then ever to surprise your loved ones with something homemade on Valentine’s day.

Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Pancakes

2 cups pancake mix

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup chocolate chips

Stir pancake mix and cinnamon in large bowl until well blended. Stir in eggs, milk, oil and vanilla just until blended. Add in chocolate chips. Pour 1/4 cup of batter per pancake onto preheated lightly greased griddle or skillet. Cook 1 to 2 minutes per side or until golden brown, turning when pancakes begin to bubble. Serve pancakes with syrup or fresh fruit if desired.