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Make Your Holiday Indulgence Bittersweet

Even with the current emphasis on health and fitness, the mere mention of chocolate makes most people extremely hungry. It is the just reward for going that extra mile, the special indulgence that eases any other food sacrifice.

And since holiday celebrations make extravagance acceptable, there’s every reason to make that extravagance chocolate. The following desserts reinforce chocolate’s finest features: its seductive smoothness, its richness and its deep, dark, satisfying flavor. All do-aheads, each chocolate recipe makes an elegant presentation.

The chocolate mille-feuille is the quickest and easiest to prepare with a 1-2-3 last-minute assembly. The glazed frozen fudge cake is served partially frozen, making it a refreshing dessert. The chocolate pecan torte with strawberry butter cream is a show-stopper on a dessert buffet table in both appearance and taste.

While most of your guests are sure to go for the chocolate, it’s still a good idea to serve fresh fruit alongside. Berries are the most versatile choice, and they make a delicious complement to chocolate. Fresh orange segments in a light syrup work well with chocolate, too.

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This is a wonderfully easy dessert that satisfies chocolate cravings without being too rich. The thinnest sheets of chocolate are used as puff pastry; they are cut into rectangles to resemble Napoleons or into any other shape that fits your fancy. (Cookie cutters offer a wide range of holiday shapes.) Use them to loosely sandwich raspberry sorbet, ice cream or frozen yogurt. Obviously, many other flavors would work well too. Arranged on a dessert plate sauced with raspberry sauce and dotted with fresh raspberries, the presentation belies its ease. Easily doubled or tripled, the chocolate mille-feuilles keep well in the refrigerator or freezer.

CHOCOLATE MILLE-FEUILLE WITH RASPBERRY SORBET AND FRESH RASPBERRIES

4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

2 teaspoons oil

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1 (10-ounce) package frozen raspberries, thawed, pureed and strained, chilled

1 teaspoon raspberry liqueur, optional

1 pint raspberry sorbet, ice cream, or frozen yogurt

1/2 pint raspberries

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1 teaspoon powdered sugar

Grease baking sheet and line with parchment paper. (It’s important that paper stay flat. Weight at corners, if necessary.) Use pencil to trace 9x7-inch rectangle. Set aside.

Melt chocolate and oil in double boiler over gently simmering water or in microwave oven in microwaveable dish on (MEDIUM-HIGH) 75% power. Stir just until smooth. Pour into center of rectangle. Quickly spread chocolate with small rubber spatula to fill rectangle. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

Use pizza cutter to cut vertically in half. Then cut each half crosswise into 4 equal rectangular pieces (about 3 1/2x2 1/4 inches). Or cut chocolate into any other desired shapes. Carefully peel pieces off paper and transfer to airtight tin, placing wax paper between pieces. Refrigerate or freeze. Use thawed but chilled.

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To assemble, combine pureed raspberries with liqueur. Swirl enough raspberry sauce on dessert plate to coat. Let sorbet soften. Center plate with chocolate. Arrange scoop as desired. Top loosely with another chocolate piece at angle. Dust lightly with powdered sugar. Arrange raspberries on sauce. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Here, dense , fudge-like layers are filled with cocoa-flavored whipped cream. Topped with a velvety glaze, it’s a chocolate dessert that appeals to all ages.

GLAZED FROZEN FUDGE CAKE

16 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

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1/2 cup unsalted butter

5 eggs

1/4 cup sugar

Dash salt

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2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons vanilla

Cream Filling

Glaze

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Grease 2 (9-inch) layer cake pans. Line bottom of pans with circle of parchment paper. Grease paper. Set aside.

Melt chocolate and butter in top of double boiler over gently simmering water or in microwave in microwave-safe dish at 75% power. Transfer to large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, beat eggs, sugar and salt in electric mixer until very thick, fluffy and tripled in volume, about 5 minutes.

Stir flour and vanilla into chocolate mixture. Add 1/4 whipped mixture. Stir well to combine. Fold in remaining whipped mixture. Divide batter between prepared pans. Bang pans on counter to settle batter.

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Bake at 400 degrees on center oven rack until wood pick inserted into center comes out fudgy but not wet, about 8 to 9 minutes, rotating pans midway if they appear to be baking unevenly. Surface will be slightly cracked. Let cool in pans on wire rack. When completely cool, use flexible knife to separate cake from sides of pan and gently invert onto rack. Remove paper. (Layers can be frozen up to 3 months, wrapped airtight.)

Spread Cream Filling on bottom layer. Top with remaining layer, smooth side up. Place in freezer. Once frozen, wrap airtight. Can be frozen as long as 3 weeks.

Pour Glaze over top of cake. Spread most on top with thin coating on sides. Can be frozen as long as 3 days, once glazed, wrapped airtight after it is frozen solid.

To serve, let stand in refrigerator 1 hour until semi-frozen. Use serrated knife to cut into serving pieces. Makes 10 to 14 servings.

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Cream Filling

1 cup whipping cream

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

3 tablespoons sugar

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Combine cream, cocoa and sugar. Place in refrigerator 1 hour. Use mixer to whip until thick.

Glaze

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

3/4 cup unsalted butter

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1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt chocolate and butter in double boiler over gently simmering water or in microwave oven in microwave-safe dish at 75% power. Stir in vanilla. Place in refrigerator just until slightly thickened but still flowing.

Chocolate makes this torte extremely rich, moist and dense. Strawberry butter cream is spread between the layers, and a thin chocolate glaze coats the surface. The chocolate-dipped strawberries garnish the top. Fortunately for those with a lot of last-minute shopping, its flavor is greatly enhanced when made in advance and refrigerated. Fresh strawberries and raspberries, tossed in a little sugar and raspberry liqueur, make a great accompaniment.

CHOCOLATE-PECAN TORTE WITH STRAWBERRY BUTTER CREAM

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12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

8 eggs

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2 tablespoons vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 1/2 cups pecans, very finely ground in food processor

Strawberry Butter Cream

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Chocolate Glaze

8 medium strawberries, with tops

Butter 4 (9-inch) round cake pans and fit bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Butter paper. Or, use 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, but bake layers in sequence.

Melt chocolate in top of double boiler over gently simmering water or in microwave oven in microwave safe dish on 75% power.

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Use mixer or food processor to cream sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and salt until fluffy. Stir in chocolate and pecans until combined. Divide batter between pans. If baking layers in sequence, leave batter at room temperature.

Bake at 375 degrees on 2 center oven racks until wood pick inserted in center comes out fudgy but not wet, about 22 minutes. Reverse pans on rack if they appear to be baking unevenly. There will be cracks on top. Cool in pans 5 minutes. Use flexible spatula or knife to loosen torte from sides of pan. Gently invert onto cooling rack. Peel off paper and cool completely. Layers may be wrapped separately in plastic bags and refrigerated 2 days or frozen for as long as 3 months. If frozen, bring to room temperature while still wrapped.

To assemble, place 1 torte layer bottom-side-up on cake plate. Work 4 strips of wax paper under torte to protect plate. Spread generous 2/3 cup Strawberry Butter Cream evenly over surface. Carefully set another layer, bottom side up, on top and spread with same amount of butter cream. Repeat with 1 more layer. Top with fourth layer, bottom side up. Refrigerate overnight to set. Once chilled and firm, use hands to gently compress layers to make them uniformly straight.

To finish, pour Chocolate Glaze over cake, allowing to drip down sides. With long icing knife or spatula, spread smoothly over top, then sides. Split 8 strawberries lengthwise. Holding end with greens, dip strawberries into remaining Glaze to coat bottom 2/3 of each. Place strawberries at equal intervals around edge of torte, with hulls on edge and strawberries pointing inward. Refrigerate cake and any remaining Glaze at least 4 hours or as long as 1 day. Use remaining Glaze on sides of torte, if desired.

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To serve, let stand at room temperature 1 hour. Cut into very thin slices. Makes 16 to 20 servings.

Strawberry Butter Cream

1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened, cut into tablespoons

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

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3 to 4 tablespoons sour cream

1/2 cup pureed strawberries

3 tablespoons strawberry preserves

Use mixer or food processor to cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add 3 tablespoons sour cream, pureed strawberries and preserves. Mix until smooth, at least 1 minute. Add remaining sour cream, if needed, for consistency. Makes about 2 1/8 cups.

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Chocolate Glaze

3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup water

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3 tablespoons oil

3/4 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

Melt chocolate, butter, water and oil in top of double boiler over gently simmering water or in microwave oven in microwave-safe dish at 75% power. Remove from heat and stir in cocoa and sugar until dissolved and glaze is smooth. Let stand at room temperature until thickened enough to spread but still flowing, about 1 hour. Makes 1 2/3 cups.

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