You can’t have Valentine’s Day without chocolate, of course; it just isn’t done. Strawberries are a must as well -- their red color a blazing emblem of the day.
But when you dip the berries in chocolate and throw in a glass of champagne, you might as well speak to your love in platitudes: Chocolate-covered strawberries are one of the oldest romantic cliches.
That’s why we’ve created two desserts to make that someone special realize something -- that you’re someone special. These recipes, for chocolate mascarpone strawberries and a strawberry tart, allow you to take chocolate and strawberries in a new direction, and you’ll seem pretty smart in doing so.
Both look wonderfully impressive, and both can be made without much fuss (and who has much time, since Valentine’s is on a weeknight this year?). You can even do a few of the steps ahead.
The mascarpone berries may be easier to make than dipped strawberries; there’s no melted chocolate mess. They work well for a party or an intimate evening. And they’re easy to nibble -- in fact, you will want to nibble a number of them.
You can prepare the filling a day ahead so all that’s left to do is to halve the berries and pipe on the filling. You can also assemble them several hours in advance. Cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
A piping tip: If you don’t have a pastry bag, roll a piece of wax paper into a cone shape, spoon in the filling, then snip off the tip. A resealable plastic bag works just as well (snip off a corner).
When shopping for strawberries, look for jumbo berries with stems. Check the stems and leaves to be sure they are bright-green and fresh-looking -- this is key to a beautiful presentation.
The tart, with its thin layer of ganache and even rows of sliced strawberries, can be a dramatic dessert for two (with, happily, plenty left over) or an exciting presentation for a small party.
The crust can be made ahead and refrigerated. Because so many tarts look same-old same-old when round, we went with a rectangular shape. It makes for easy cutting and serving as well. (But you can also make the tart in a 9-inch round tart pan.)
Be sure to grind the hazelnuts well; if they are too large, the crust will tear when you roll it out. And because this is Valentine’s, pick up the best-quality bittersweet chocolate for the ganache. We added Frangelico, the Italian hazelnut liqueur, to the ganache, but you could substitute brandy or an orange liqueur.
You’ll spend a bit of time slicing the strawberries, but the effort will be worth it. You’ll have a looker of a dessert. Take a shortcut, if need be, and use whole strawberries: Cut the tops off so the berries are the same height, then arrange them pointed side up. The tart can be made a few hours ahead; just be sure to cover it well with plastic wrap. Brush the glaze on the berries just before serving.