Sweets for your sweetie pie

By Tina Wasserman

Surprise your honey or family of honeys with something from your heart to their stomachs. But don’t rush, because these recipes are equally good for all occasions when you want to give a little love to the recipient. This is a good time to remind the people you love that you care about them. This year I am not making my heart-shaped salmon loaf but we’ve already taste-tested my experiments so I know your loved ones will enjoy.

Growing up, my kids knew that they could always surprise me on Valentine’s Day with a little box of Cella’s milk chocolate covered cherries with the liquid centers. Since I was a child, I would delight in slowly biting off a hole in the chocolate and then letting the liquid ooze into my mouth before I popped the rest of the confection in my mouth. How delicious! How cloyingly sweet! What fun!

Double Chocolate
Cherry Brownies

I still love these but my palate now waxes ecstatic for the little, wild cherries called Amarena that are packed in a syrup good enough to spoon over ice cream or cake along with some of the cherries. Classy restaurants are now using these cherries as a garnish for a Manhattan cocktail. A friend of mine asks the bartender to add some of the syrup to the drink and it is delish.

The following is my homage to my favorite candy. A fudge-like brownie with cherries and chocolate chips … what could be better?

2 sticks unsalted butter

3 squares unsweetened baking chocolate, broken into pieces

4 eggs

2 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon Adam’s Best Vanilla Flavor OR 1 teaspoon vanilla extract plus ¼ teaspoon almond extract

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup Amarena cherries in syrup, drained (see note)

Confectioners’ sugar for garnish, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x9x2-inch square pan or an 8-inch heart-shaped pan and 2 or 3 ramekins with cooking spray.

2. Place the butter in a 1-quart glass bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Add the baking chocolate and return to the microwave oven for 30 seconds on high. Remove and stir until chocolate looks like it is almost melted; the heat of the butter should melt it all the way but if it doesn’t, microwave mixture in 15-second spurts until stirred mixture is smooth. Set aside.

3. Add eggs to a stand mixing bowl, or a 4-quart mixing bowl if your electric mixer has a large capacity (over 5 quarts).

4. Beat the eggs until light and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for 2 minutes until mixture looks thick and lemon-colored and all the egg has been absorbed.

5. Add the vanilla flavor or extract and almond extract and beat for another minute to combine thoroughly.

6. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and add it to the mixing bowl. Mix well until a scraped bowl shows no signs of flour.

7. Add the chips and cherries which still have syrup clinging to them and gently stir to combine.

8. Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and bake for 25 minutes in a convection oven or 30 minutes in a regular oven. Cake will not jiggle but will appear moist. A toothpick inserted into the center might have a few crumbs sticking to it but not batter.

9. Cool cake completely and store at room temperature covered in plastic wrap.

10. Sprinkle with some confectioners’ sugar before serving, if desired.

Tina’s tidbits:

• Amarena cherries are not inexpensive but worth it. Found in most food markets and stores in the blue and white jar. Right now, you can buy a 32-ounce jar of the original Fabbri cherries at Costco for the price of 8 ounces at other Dallas stores. They last in the refrigerator for months and I promise you, you will find many uses for them.

• If you can’t find or don’t want to spring for the Amarena cherries, you can substitute maraschino cherries. Just cut the cherries in half or into large pieces before measuring.

• Like all baked goods made with fruit, if allowed to sit for a few hours or a day, the flavors will be enhanced. But if you can’t wait, these brownies are best eaten when completely cool.

• After brownies are cool (you can even refrigerate them to facilitate cutting), cut with a very sharp knife wiped clean after each cut.

Decadent Caramel
Monkey Bread

Adapted from Ree Drummond

Many believe that monkey bread’s origins were the kitchens in Hungary where rich yeast cakes were created and then brought to this country by immigrants. How it got the name “monkey bread” probably came when people pulled the cakes apart with their fingers or maybe because cakes like this one are so delicious that you jump around with joy after eating a morsel. Whatever the origin, this is a recipe my daughter shared with me after I started explaining how to make a yeast dough; you get the point. I have adapted this recipe to make sure it used kosher products and it was user-friendly. Very easy, VERY delicious and a real crowd-pleaser.

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

2 16-ounce cans Trader Joe’s Buttermilk or Organic Biscuits, non-flaky

2 sticks unsalted butter

½ cup dark brown sugar

Nonstick spray

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10-cup Bundt pan or springform pan with cooking spray and set aside.

2. Combine the sugar and the cinnamon in a 1-gallon storage bag. Close and shake to combine.

3. Open the can of biscuits and cut each biscuit into quarters. Place half of the biscuit pieces into the bag, seal and shake well until all are evenly coated with the sugar mixture and they don’t stick together.

4. Lightly shake excess sugar off the coated dough balls and place them evenly around the bottom of the prepared baking pan.

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with the remaining dough.

6. Meanwhile, melt the butter and the dark brown sugar in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring often until thoroughly combined.

7. Pour sugar mixture over the biscuits in the pan.

8. Place pan on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until top is dark golden brown.

9. Remove from oven and cool for 20-30 minutes before unmolding onto a serving plate.

10. Serve with a small fork to pull the pieces apart or just use your fingers to lick afterward!

Tina’s Tidbits:

• Learn from a BIG MISTAKE I made! NEVER use an angel food pan for this dish. The bottom of the pan is not tight-fitting like a springform pan and the butter/sugar syrup oozed out the side significantly! If I hadn’t wrapped the bottom and sides of the pan and placed it on a rimmed cookie sheet, I would have had a fire from all the fat that dripped out of the pan. My pan was heart-shaped but I am now buying a heart-shaped Bundt pan for the next time I make this cake.

• It’s not a bad idea to wrap foil around the bottom of a springform pan when you have a thin or syrupy batter. Just remember to place the foil dull side facing you so that the pan will absorb the same amount of heat. Shiny side out will slow down baking time and might affect the finished product.

• Buttermilk adds a nice flavor to the biscuits but if you can’t find biscuits that say buttermilk, don’t worry; the biscuits aren’t the star of this dish, the flavor is.

• Although the sauce contains lots of butter, I advise you to spray your pan even if it has a nonstick interior.

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