We are wandering into a big weekend – Valentine’s Day is Sunday. Forget about flowery sentiment. (And forget about the expensive short-lived, long-stemmed roses – hydrangeas are perfect whatever the occasion!) I will be dodging the chocolate calories which will be flying; fast and furious.
Mr. Sanders is a true believer in the healing powers of dark chocolate. Consequently he finds a way to consume it a few times each day. This he does with impunity, and without noticeable weight gain. I, who dwell in a real life world, cannot. I will partake, and even prepare, chocolate for ceremonial purposes, but will not eat it daily. Valentine’s Day is the perfect occasion for me. I get to plan, execute, take a few bites, and then push my chair away from the table. Mr. Sanders can go to town.
We have holiday chocolate standard bearers: we always bake Boston cream pie for our birthdays. Christmas dinner calls for a flourless chocolate cake. Our traditional Thanksgiving requires a pecan pie, but the meal is made replete with the addition of a chocolate cream pie, topped with billowing whipped cream clouds, and curls of shaved Belgian chocolate.
This year Mr. Sanders will be home for Valentine’s Day, which is unusual. Most years he has been away at an annual out-of-town boat show, so I am accustomed to tucking a little box of fancy chocolates in his luggage, having scrawled a few plump Cupids with love-tipped arrows as a Valentine declaration. The boat show has been cancelled because of COVID this year, so we will be in the same town, eyeing each other over the dining room candles, toying with our wine glasses, heady with expectations that years (and years) of marriage bring. We will have a modest steak dinner, extravagant with asparagus, Béarnaise sauce and a lightly dressed green salad. And then there will be dessert.
Death by Chocolate is not appropriate this year. Mr. Sanders’s birthday is coming up soon, so we shouldn’t consider a Boston cream pie. A flourless chocolate cake is just too much for two reasonable people to eat, even over the course of a few days – it calls for a festive and rapacious crowd. Instead, we will exhibit a modicum of New England restraint, and will fall instead on a brace of exquisite éclairs. Homemade, of course.
Our friends at Food52 preach practice, practice, practice. So consider how versatile éclairs can be for many holidays: Valentine’s Day, Lunar New Year, Easter, April Fool’s, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and maybe have a side dish of them tucked away for Thanksgiving, just in case anyone is still feeling peckish. https://food52.com/blog/19579-the-perfectionist-s-guide-to-making-chocolate-eclairs
Paul Hollywood, of The Great British Bake Off, suggests using whipped cream for the éclair filling. I have had some very, very memorable éclairs filled with whipped cream. You can never go wrong. https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/pauls_chocolate_clairs_59944
Mary Berry, also of Great British Bake Off fame, has a fancier éclair, which is suitable for Easter: https://thegreatbritishbakeoff.co.uk/recipes/all/mary-berry-religieuses/ Mary Berry is the master of crème patissiere, so you might have to have your own bake off to find which you prefer. See? The Food52 folks are always right; practice makes perfect éclairs.
We have been using King Arthur flours for all our baking lately: https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/cream-puffs-and-eclairs-recipe
“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.”
― Tom Bodett