Chocolate and Fire for Valentine’s Day

Three new desserts from Yossy Arefi and a chance to flambé.

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By Melissa Clark

Next Tuesday is Valentine’s Day, which many love birds might celebrate with flowers, Champagne and, of course, chocolate galore.

Which got me thinking: When did Valentine’s Day become a chocolate-flavored holiday? Why not vanilla, caramel or hot peppers? It’s probably all because of Richard Cadbury, who started marketing heart-shaped, Cupid-bedecked boxes of chocolate bonbons for Valentine’s Day back in the 1860s. The tradition stuck.

Homemade fudgy treats, though, do make for a more intimate display of affection. Yossy Arefi has three new chocolate desserts that, like relationships, she writes, can range in commitment.

The simplest is a recipe for peanut butter hot fudge sundaes (above) with store-bought ice cream and a warm, nutty hot fudge sauce. Slightly more involved is a bittersweet chocolate soufflé cake with a brittle, crunchy top and molten filling. And, there’s her luxe Earl Grey crème brûlée, its dense custard gently perfumed with the bergamot-infused tea, and capped by caramelized sugar.

To spread the love more widely, try Erin Jeanne McDowell’s red velvet cookies with white chocolate chunks, rose-red in color with a fudgy center. And Dorie Greenspan’s sparkly chocolate thumbprint cookies make elegant, tasty gifts for all your loved ones.

If you’re planning a romantic meal tête-à-tête, I have a new recipe for steak Diane, which you can flambé, or not, to your heart’s content. Or try Eric Kim’s individual beef Wellingtons, made with store-bought puff pastry. Then for dessert, cherries jubilee will fan the flames of love even if you choose not to ignite it. (If you’re flambé-curious but nervous, I have some safety tips in my column in The Times.)

For those feeding bigger families, you can double down on cozy with a classic shepherd’s pie or pasta carbonara. Then maybe follow it with a regal German chocolate cake or creamy dark chocolate pudding.

I should also acknowledge that there’s some sort of big sporting event coming up. I’ve never watched the Super Bowl, but I do know it’s a great night to score a tricky restaurant reservation! If you’re staying home, with or without the game on, you might simmer Kay Chun’s new recipe for a meatless eggplant and bean chili. It’s a brilliant technique, with the soft, caramelized eggplant adding body and texture to the earthy beans.

You do need a subscription for the recipes. And you can share the love with a gift subscription for your darling, then reap the rewards for meals to come. You can also find us on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, where our Vaughn Vreeland made salted chocolate chip cookies, perfect for Valentine’s Day, Superb Owl Day and every day. And I’m at [email protected] if you want to reach out.

Not everyone sends sweets on Valentine’s Day. But every year, Alex Ross, a music writer for The New Yorker, posts an “Alban Berg Valentine” usually featuring a macabre quote from Berg’s opera “Lulu,” the story of a young woman who is bad at relationships. The play that opera is based on was also made into a 1929 film, “Pandora’s Box” (streaming on the Criterion Channel), starring an arrestingly luminous Louise Brooks.

The real life Brooks was a bit of a hot mess, too, as the writer Angela Carter memorably illustrated in this profile from 1990 in The London Review of Books. But no one ever captured the mythical sweep of her life quite like Brooks herself, as shown in Richard Leacock’s documentary “Lulu In Berlin” (also on Criterion). In this 1974 interview, Brooks discloses some choice tidbits — including that in “Pandora’s Box,” the blood that drips from the mouth of the lover whom Lulu just shot dead was really chocolate syrup.

Sam’s back Friday and I’ll see you on Monday.

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