Conversation hearts are a Valentine’s Day icon – and even if you don’t enjoy eating the powdery candies nowadays, you probably remember exchanging them with friends and your valentines as a kid. A few companies make conversation heart candies these days, but the original are Sweethearts Conversation Hearts, made by NECCO. Sweethearts got their start in the 1860s, when the brother of NECCO’s founder, Daniel Chase, began experimentally printing messages on small, crisp candies that the company produced. At first, the messages were imprinted by hand, but he refined the technology until they were printed directly onto the candies using a die-cut press and vegetable food coloring.
The messages started out almost like the messages that can be seen in fortune cookies today, as there was a trend at that time for small paper messages to be put inside of edible candy shells. For instance, a wedding message might have read “Married in Pink, He will Take to Drink” – a funny “fortune” that would be good for a laugh at a party. The message-bearing candies originally came in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, to accommodate different lengths of text and different occasions. The candies were a huge hit with customers, who loved the novelty of seeing a note printed directly on something sweet.
Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, semisweet chocolate, chocolate chip… is white chocolate the least commonly used chocolate in baking? Sometimes it seems that way, and while the sweeter chocolate isn’t everyone’s go-to chocolate, it does have a lot to offer in some dishes. As evidence, I offer up these white chocolate cupcakes. They have a delicious white chocolate flavor – milky and sweet, with vanilla highlights - and a perfectly moist and fluffy texture. They’re definitely something I’ll make again and again – which isn’t bad for the black sheep (white sheep?) of the chocolate family.
I used Ghiradelli white chocolate (conveniently sold in large blocks at Trader Joe’s) in this recipe and incorporated the melted chocolate into the cupcake batter. I cut back on the amount of sugar I might normally use in cupcakes to take into account the relatively high sweetness of the chocolate, but added eggs, butter and other standard cupcake batter add-ins.
I experimented a bit with the baking time for this recipe, too. When baked at 350F for 15 minutes or so, the cupcakes god a nice dome to them, but browned too quickly on the sides and bottom – a not uncommon result with a higher sugar/higher fat baked good, where the two substances caramelize and brown at higher temperatures more readily. In the end, I reduced the oven temperature and kept the cupcakes relatively small by dividing the batter into 18 muffin cups. These were more flat than domed, but they kept the moistness that I was looking for without overbrowning. Besides, flat tops are actually easier to decorate than large domed ones!
The frosting is a cream cheese and butter based one, with only a little white chocolate added for flavor. I didn’t want to have too much chocolate in the frosting because I felt it would be too sweet; cream cheese cut the sweetness of the chocolate perfectly and gave the frosting a very creamy texture. The hearts on top of the cakes are jumbo Necco Sweethearts. I sorted through an entire bag to find ones with legible messages and it was worth the effort when the tray of finished cupcakes looked stunning. If you don’t care for the Necco candies, however, you can use any kind of sprinkles or just keep the frosting plain.
There are two things that jump to mind when someone mentions a filled cake. One is a simple layer cake, sliced in half and filled with jam or buttercream. The other is a molten center cake – always a Valentine’s Day favorite – that is a chocolate cake with a chocolate truffle center, which melts as the cake bakes and leaves you with a rich sauce when you dig in with your fork. King Arthur Flour has a specialty pan online that offers a simpler (and cuter) option for this Valentine’s Day.
The Sweethearts Cake Pan bakes up a half-dozen heart-shaped cakes that each have a small divot on top that can be filled with chocolate, jam, whipped cream or anything else you can think of. The little cakes are adorable, and dead-easy to work with. Plus, since hearts are perfectly acceptable all year round (unlike, say a Christmas tree), you can use these again and again.