That irrepressible rake, Casanova, was said to have preferred chocolate over champagne as an aphrodisiac. Perhaps he also chose it for a restorative after a night's revelry. In his time, it was ever so fashionable to begin the day with a cup of chocolate -- best if taken in the boudoir wearing a dressing gown and sipped in a semireclining position.
Chocolate and Valentine's Day have been linked for a hundred years now, and probably will continue to be for another hundred. But if the object of your affection is counting fat grams, five pounds of chocolates in a heart-shaped box might not be the perfect expression of your ardor.
If that's the case, how about an intimate dinner followed by a divine chocolate dessert -- a low-fat treat made with your own loving hands.
Chocolate mousse a l'orange
3/4 cup low-fat milk
6 2-inch-long strips of orange zest
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
1 large egg
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process
2 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 2-ounce block bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate for shavings (optional)
In a small saucepan, heat milk and orange zest until steaming. Remove from the heat and let steep for 10 minutes. Discard the orange zest. In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over liqueur; let stand until softened, 1 minute or longer.
In another saucepan, whisk together whole egg, 1/4 cup of the brown sugar, cocoa and the infused milk until smooth. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the softened gelatin mixture, stirring until the gelatin has dissolved. Then add chocolate and vanilla; stir until the chocolate has melted. Set aside to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
Bring about 1 inch of water to a simmer in a wide saucepan. In a heat-proof bowl large enough to fit over the saucepan, combine egg whites, cream of tartar, 3 tablespoons water and the remaining 3/4 cup brown sugar. Set the bowl over the barely simmering water and beat with an electric mixer at low speed, moving the beaters around constantly, until an instant-read thermometer registers 140 degrees. (This will take 3 to 5 minutes.) Increase the mixer speed to high and continue beating over the heat for a full 3 1/2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and beat the meringue until cool, 4 to 5 minutes longer.
Whisk one-fourth of the meringue into the chocolate mixture until smooth. With a rubber spatula, fold the chocolate mixture back into the remaining meringue until completely incorporated. Spoon the mousse into 6 dessert glasses and chill until set, about 3 hours. (The mousse can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.)
If making chocolate shavings, place chocolate on wax paper and microwave, uncovered, at medium-low (30 percent) power for 15 seconds. Turn chocolate block over and microwave for 10 to 15 seconds longer, or just until the chocolate has softened slightly but has not started to melt. Use a vegetable peeler to shave off curls. (If the chocolate is too hard to shave easily, warm it again.) Garnish each mousse with chocolate
shavings, if using, and serve.
Per serving: 250 calories; 6 grams protein, 4 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 45 grams carbohydrate; 75 mg sodium; 37 mg cholesterol.
Makes about 10 flutes or 8 cups
1/4 cup sliced almonds (1 ounce)
3 tablespoons all-purpose white flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process
pinch of salt
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, preferably canola oil
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
confectioners' sugar for dusting
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Spray one or two baking sheets
with nonstick cooking spray. Line with parchment paper or aluminum foil and spray again.
Place almonds, flour, cocoa and salt in a food processor or blender and process until the almonds are finely ground; set aside.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together egg whites, sugar, oil, butter and vanilla. Add the flour/almond mixture and whisk until well blended.
If making cookie flutes, drop a scant tablespoonful of batter onto a prepared baking sheet. With a metal spatula or the back of a spoon, spread the batter into a circle 4 to 4 1/2 inches in diameter. Repeat with the remaining batter, leaving ample space between cookies -- you will have room for about 3 cookies per baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies are firm. Immediately lift the parchment or foil from the baking sheet and place it on the counter. Carefully slip a flat metal spatula under each cookie to loosen it. Return the cookies to the baking sheet and place in the oven for about 1 minute to soften. To shape, wrap each cookie loosely around a wooden spoon handle to form a flute. (If making cookie cups, use a generous tablespoonful for each cookie. Spread the batter into circles 5 to 5 1/2 inches in diameter. Bake as directed above. To shape, drape the softened cookies over an upside-down glass -- a narrow glass, about 2 inches in diameter, works best -- and pleat the edges to make a cup.)
Transfer the shaped cookies to a wire rack to finish cooling. Store cookies in airtight container. Before serving, dust the edges of the cookies with confectioners' sugar.
Baking tip: The cookies must be shaped while warm, so it is easiest to work in small batches. If a cookie hardens before you finish shaping it, simply soften in the oven for a minute or so.
Per flute: 88 calories; 2 grams protein, 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 12 grams carbohydrate; 50 mg sodium; 3 mg cholesterol.