Valentine’s Day sure recipes for your love(s)

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“The most romantic ingredients to bake with must start with the classics, like chocolate and strawberries! That’s why my recipe for Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Cake is a perfect choice to feed the one(s) you love. Serve slices with a glass of champagne for the perfect Valentine’s Day treat. Another romantic ingredient is passion fruit. I love making passion fruit curd instead of lemon curd to fill my Coconut Passion cake–it has three layers of coconut cake filled with passion fruit and mascarpone cream frosted with a fluffy coconut meringue buttercream. (I like to use Goya’s Fruta: frozen passion fruit puree, or the passion fruit puree sold by Perfect Puree of Napa Valley.) Of course, if you are broken-hearted this Valentine’s Day, there is always my Heartless Bastard Break-Up Cake: a single layer of rich chocolate cake topped with an easy-to-make boozy chocolate mousse and chocolate syrup sprinkled with spicy bar nuts to save the day:)” — Jill O’Connor From Jill O’Connor (author of Cake Cookbook)

A rose by any other name would be a…strawberry. Strawberries are a distant member of the rose family, which might explain their intoxicating aroma when perfectly ripe. If romance is on your mind, forgo the flowers and make this cake instead. Freeze-dried strawberries, crushed to a fine powder, add an intense pop of concentrated berry flavor and bright color when combined with the fresh fruit in the Strawberry-Cheesecake Frosting.

Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Cake
Serves 8 to 10
Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour ¾ cup natural cocoa powder 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt 2 cups granulated sugar 2 eggs 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules 2 teaspoons vanilla 1 cup mayonnaise 11⁄3 cups boiling water
Strawberry-Cheesecake Frosting:
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature
6 to 8 cups confectioners’ sugar, measured then sifted
½ cup to
¾ cup fresh strawberries, diced
One 1.2 ounce bag freeze-dried strawberries, crushed to a fine powder
Chocolate dipped strawberries, for garnish (optional)

• Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
• In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
• In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the sugar, eggs, and espresso powder at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and mayonnaise and beat on medium speed until smooth.
• Decrease the mixer speed to its lowest setting and beat in half the dry ingredients just until combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
• Add half the boiling water to the batter and beat on low speed just until smooth, 5 to 10 seconds. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat until combined. Add the remaining boiling water and beat just until smooth. The batter will be somewhat thin.
• Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans and smooth the tops with a spatula. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake layers to a wire rack and let cool in their pans for 10 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the racks and discard the parchment paper. Let cool completely. While the cake is cooling make the frosting.
• In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese together until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the vanilla. Beat in 6 cups of confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Beat in the fresh and powdered freeze-dried strawberries. Beat until smooth (there will be tiny flecks of strawberry throughout the frosting.) If a firmer consistency is desired, beat in additional confectioners’ sugar, ½ cup at a time.
• To finish the cake: Place one cake layer on a cake stand or cake plate, and spread with 1 heaping cup of frosting. Top with the second cake layer and frost the top and sides generously with the remaining frosting. If desired, reserve some of the frosting to decorate the cake: Fit a 16-inch disposable piping bag with a large star tip and fill halfway with strawberry frosting. Pipe rosettes of frosting all over the top and around the sides of the cake. Decorate the cake with chocolate dipped strawberries, if desired.
• Refrigerate in a covered cake carrier for up to two days.

Salted Butter Pecan Cake
Serves 8
If a sticky bun and a layer cake fell in love and got married, this cake would be their baby. It is best served freshly baked and slightly warm from the oven while the caramel and pecan topping is still gooey, but if made ahead of time, simply reheat in a low oven just until warm. Please note the topping uses salted butter while the cake calls for unsalted butter. This is important to get the perfect salty/sweet balance.
Ingredients:
1½ cups sifted cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons golden syrup
2⁄3 cup sour cream
1⁄12 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon Maldon Sea Salt (for sprinkling)
Topping:
½ cup salted butter
1 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
3 tablespoons golden syrup
¼ teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

• Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
To make the topping: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the salted butter. When the butter starts to bubble and turn golden, add the brown sugar and golden syrup. Decrease the heat to medium and stir until the sugar melts and starts to bubble. As soon as the mixture starts to boil, cook for 1 minute exactly, stirring continuously. (Boiling for more than a minute will result in caramel that will harden on the cake and be difficult to slice.) Remove from the heat and stir in the pecans. Pour immediately into the prepared pan, using a small spatula to spread in an even layer. Set aside.
• For the batter: In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and fine sea salt. In a separate bowl using an electric mixer set at medium speed, beat together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat in the golden syrup, sour cream and vanilla. With a rubber or silicone spatula, fold in the flour mixture by hand, just until the batter is combined and streaks of white remain. Spoon the batter over the topping in the pan, smoothing it evenly with a spatula.
• Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire cooling rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Invert the cake onto a serving plate. If any bits of caramel or nuts remain in the pan, simply scrape them from the pan and spread over the cake with a spatula. Sprinkle the Maldon Sea Salt over the top of the cake. Serve warm, cut into thick wedges.

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