Valentine's Day would not be the same without chocolate. Men and women who want to go the extra mile for their significant others on Valentine's Day this year but still incorporate chocolate into the festivities can try their hand at concocting a homemade confection such as the following recipe for "Chocolate, Port and Pear Upside-Down Sponge" from Maxine Clark's "Chocolate: Deliciously Indulgent Recipes for Chocolate Lovers" (Ryland, Peters & Small).
Chocolate, Port and Pear Upside-Down Sponge
Créme Anglaise, to serve (see below)
6 to 8 medium, underripe pears, peeled
1 cinnamon stick
6 tablespoons sugar
2⁄3 cup Ruby Port
2 cups full-bodied red wine
3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1⁄2 cup fine cornmeal
61⁄2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
6 tablespoons milk
1 9 x 2-inch heavy round cake pan, greased
Halve the pears lengthwise and carefully scoop out the core with a teaspoon or melon baller. Put the pears in a wide, shallow sauté pan with the cinnamon and the sugar. Pour over the port and red wine and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes (after which they will be a little less firm). Lift the pears out of the pan with a slotted spoon. Let cool. Boil the reserved wine juices hard until well reduced and syrupy.
Arrange the pears cut-side down around the base of the prepared cake pan (wide ends outward, points toward the middle). Pour over half the wine syrup, reserving the rest. Let cool.
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
To make the cake batter, sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and stir in the cornmeal. Using an electric beater, cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, then beat in the egg yolks and vanilla essence. Fold in the flour mixture, then beat in the milk.
Using the electric mixer with clean beaters, beat the egg whites in a clean, dry bowl until they form soft peaks. Using a metal spoon, quickly stir a large spoonful of whites into the cake mixture to loosen it, then gently fold in the remainder. Spoon the cake batter over the pears and smooth the surface.
Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until a metal skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Just before serving, put the pan over low heat for 1 minute to warm the pears and help loosen them from the bottom. Run a knife around the edges to loosen the cake and invert onto a warm serving plate. Brush the pears with the reserved syrup. Serve warm or at room temperature with Créme Anglaise.
Serves 4 to 6
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
11⁄4 cups milk
1 tablespoon sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons brandy, Armagnac or bourbon (optional)
Put the vanilla bean, milk and sugar in a small pan and heat gently. Bring almost to a boil, then set aside to infuse for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean. (Rinse and dry the vanilla bean and store in a sugar jar to make vanilla sugar.)
Put the egg yolks in a bowl, beat well, and then pour in the infused milk. Mix well and return to the pan. Stir with a wooden spoon over gentle heat until the custard coats the back of the spoon. Pour into a cold bowl and stir in the brandy, if using. Cover the surface with plastic wrap, let cool, then refrigerate until needed.