Most people, I think, dislike February, but it has always been a rather special month for me—a birthday that often includes snow (I like snow) and Valentine’s Day, a B-Level holiday, I suppose, but one I have always loved.
There are red hearts, pink roses, and a lovely amethyst birthstone to celebrate the month. And I can’t leave out cherry pie for President’s Day.
If you are celebrating Valentine’s Day this year, I am sure that many Harrisburg-area restaurants will be offering entire dinners for takeout and perhaps even socially distanced in-house dining. But if you are cooking at home (seems like we all have been doing a lot of that for a long time), something elegant is in order.
For a special dinner, my choice would be an old-favorite entrée, steak Diane, smothered with a cognac cream sauce, little red potatoes roasted in butter, and a green vegetable like asparagus or baby peas.
But we need a dessert, and I think I found a perfect one: a chocolate amaretti cake.
The cake is made with crispy amaretti cookies that are a unique concoction of egg whites, sugar, almond flour and almond extract. The classic variety, known as Lazzaroni amaretti, come in bright red tins and are expensive. Cookies are packed in “twos” and are wrapped in lovely pastel tissue paper resembling taffy “kisses.” They are most often found in Italian specialty stores. But you can find other amaretti cookies today at your favorite grocery store. (Look for the Doria brand, which is priced very reasonably.)
Combining crispy amaretti cookies with rich chocolate, sugar, butter and almonds results in a delectable specialty cake from the Lombardy region of Italy known as torta di cioccolata alle mandorle. Paired with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or berries (especially raspberries), this lovely desert will brighten your Valentine dinner and your February.
CHOCOLATE AMARETTI CAKE
- 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (cacao content about 60%), broken into pieces
- 1 cup almonds (these are plain almonds, not salted or with oil)
- 1 cup crumbled amaretti (these are crunchy cookies, not soft Italian almond macaroons)
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 4 eggs (I use extra large)
- Cocoa powder (this is unsweetened cocoa cooking powder not hot chocolate mix)
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees
- Butter a 9-inch round cake pan with 2-inch sides. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper as well. Dust the entire pan with flour and tap out the excess.
- Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over simmering water with the bowl not touching the water. Heat until the chocolate is softened and stir until it is smooth. (You can also gently melt the chocolate in a microwave, at reduced power, stirring frequently.)
- In a food processor, process the cookies and almonds until finely ground. Transfer this mixture to a bowl.
- Then, also in the food processor, process the butter and sugar until fairly smooth (mixture might still be a little “grainy”).
- With the motor running, add the eggs, one at a time and blend well. (Stop and scrape the sides of the processor bowl occasionally.)
- Add the nut and cookie mixture and the melted chocolate. Pulse to combine. Using a spatula, place the batter into the prepared cake pan.
- Bake until the center of the cake is slightly puffy, about 30 minutes. (But check at 20 to 25 minutes to make sure there is no burning. My oven seems to cook “faster,” so I always do this.)
- Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto a serving plate, lift the pan, and remove the waxed or parchment paper. Let cool completely.
- Just before serving, place some cocoa powder in a small sieve and dust the top of the cake.
This cake keeps well in the fridge for a few days, or if wrapped tightly, frozen, for up to a month. I think you will love the rich taste of chocolate and almonds in this dessert all winter long. Serve it with a sweet dessert wine like Vin Santo or Moscato or an Italian liquor like Sambuca or Fra Angelico. (And don’t forget espresso.)
To all readers: Ti voglio bene! I hope you enjoy your Valentine’s Day, even if February is not your favorite month.
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