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.
Some of the most iconic things associated with Valentine’s Day are conversation hearts. These little candies have been putting smiles on people’s faces with their messages for nearly 150 years. Their distinctive heart shapes and short, sweet messages are easy to reproduce on other mediums, as well as in sugar, which means that you can make conversation cakes, brownies or cookies for your own Valentine’s Day celebrations. These Conversation-Heart Cookie Cutters, made by Chicago Metallic, are just one tool that you can use at home to easily make your own conversation hearts this year.
The plastic cookie cutters are double sided, so that you can cut out the cookie with one side and flip it over to imprint one of the messages onto the dough (or, you could simply leave some of the cookies plain). The messages include Love You, I’m Yours, True Love, Be Mine, Kiss Me, Hugs, Kisses, and XOXO – not quite as modern as the “text me” message that they’re putting onto the candies, but these are classics that are still perfect for the holiday. I like the fact that the cookie cutters aren’t solid, since it means that if any dough gets stuck in the cutter you can press it out with a finger or a butter knife without messing up the shape of the cookie. The scalloped edges around the cutters don’t make it onto the finished cookie designs, but they do make the cutters easy to hold – especially for small hands. The cutters come with a cookie dough recipe, although any butter cookie recipe will work with them if you prefer to use one of your own.
A few roses and a few homemade treats make a good combination as a gift for your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, and if those homemade treats are baked in a pan like this Decorated Heart Mini Cake Pan from Wilton, they’re sure to be a hit. This nonstick pan has six heart-shaped cavities, each decorated with one of three 3-dimensional designs. The distinct designs transfer right onto your cakes as they bake, leaving you with a lovely Valentine’s Day cake that doesn’t need any special decorations to get your message across. The designs are not too dramatic, but the lines of the pan are very clear and they should come out cleanly onto your baked goods. Lightly greasing and flouring your pan will not only ensure that the cake doesn’t stick, but will add a little extra contrast to that side of the cake and highlight the heart designs. If you do want to decorate them, use the heart patterns as guidelines for colored frosting, or pour a very thin glaze over the top of the cake. Each little cake is big enough to be a treat for two to share.
Although it’s ideal for Valentine’s Day, this pan can be used all year long. Hearts are not just a seasonal shape, so these mini cakes can make appearances at birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations that might call for a little bit of cake. They’re also the perfect way to show that your baked goods are made with love.
This Dark Chocolate Mocha Truffle Tart will definitely satisfy anyone’s chocolate cravings. A buttery tart shell is filled with a smooth, velvety dark chocolate ganache that is lightly sweetened with honey and kissed with coffee flavor. The dark chocolate flavor comes through the most, but adding the coffee makes the filling a little bit more complex, drawing out some of the darker notes in the chocolate. The tart is decadent, very satisfying to eat and surprisingly easy to make.
For this type of tart, you need to start with a prebaked tart shell made with your favorite tart dough. I used four individually sized Vanilla Almond Tart Crusts that I baked a day ahead of time. You can also use a single 9 or 10-inch tart shell. After your shells have baked and cooled, you can prepare the chocolate ganache that makes up the tart filling. Once it is ready – no further baking needed! – all you need to do is wait for it to set up before you can dig in.
The ganache is made by pouring hot cream over chopped dark chocolate, honey and instant espresso or coffee powder (I used Starbucks Via). Choose a good quality dark chocolate in your favorite brand with 60-70% cacao for best results. The hot cream will melt the chopped chocolate as you stir and create a very smooth ganache that makes a silky filling for the tarts. Make sure that the ganache is still warm – you can pop it in the microwave for a few seconds to warm it slightly, if necessary – when you pour it into the prepared tart shells. After the ganache is poured into the tart, firmly (but not aggressively) tap the bottom of the tart a few times on your countertop to release any bubbles that may have formed when your poured in the ganache.
Smooth the surface with an offset immediately after pouring if you want a very smooth finish on your tarts. Personally, I don’t mind the slightly rippled look of the glossy, poured ganache because it gives the tarts a more handmade look without taking anything away from their flavor. These tarts are best eaten within a day or two of being made, as the ganache will start to soften the crust slightly if they are kept longer. Serve plain or with a little whipped cream.