Many years ago, before we ever started dating, the woman who became my wife told me the tragic story of a horrible weekend conference.
She was a reporter at the time, and she was sent to a journalism conference a couple of hundred miles away. She went with another reporter from the same paper, and that was the problem.
This man was odd. He was very odd. Even among journalists, a profession that tends to attract weirdos, deviants and social misfits, he was an oddball.
Which brings us back to the long-ago weekend my future wife spent with him at the conference. They were in each other's company for far longer than she liked. He was making her crazy.
Then, a heavy mountaintop snowstorm on their drive back delayed their return for one more night. It was more than she could take. The next day, before they set out for the final leg of their trip, she decided to treat herself to a badly needed hot fudge sundae.
"It was the only time in my life that chocolate didn't help," she said.
"Comfort me with apples," says the Song of Solomon and Ruth Reichl. They have a point. Food has the power to comfort and console. It wraps us in its warmth, it swathes us like an old blanket.
There is a reason they call it comfort food. It brings us to a better and happier state of mind.
The woman in the Song of Solomon is lovesick; she seeks consolation in pressed raisin cakes and apples. I appreciate the sentiment, but I'm not entirely on board with her choices.
When I was lovesick in my youth, my comfort foods were ice cream and Doritos, though not at the same time. When I was lovesick as an adult, my comfort foods were ice cream and alcohol. Sometimes at the same time.
We all have foods that we turn to in times of sorrow and need. It's why we bring food to people who are mourning. It's why we try to cheer up friends by taking them out to dinner.
Chocolate always works for my wife and a lot of other people I know. If I had known enough to give more chocolate to more women, I might not have been lovesick as often. And then I would have needed less ice cream.
Yield: 8 servings
2 tablespoons whole almonds
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 pinch salt
1/2 stick plus 2 tablespoons (6 tablespoons total) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces, divided
3 eggs, divided
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 pounds fresh strawberries, washed and trimmed, divided
1/2 cup granulated sugar
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1. Place the almonds in a heat-proof bowl. Bring a cup or two of water to a boil in a small pot and pour over the almonds. Allow to sit for 45 seconds to 1 minute, but no more. Drain the almonds. Remove the peels by rubbing them.
2. Place the almonds and the confectioners sugar in a food processor and pulse on and off until finely ground. Add the salt and 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) of the butter and process until smooth. Beat 1 of the eggs in a small bowl and add half of it to the mixture (you can discard the remaining 1/2 egg). Mix together the flour and cocoa powder and add 1/3 of this combination to the almond-butter mixture; mix just until incorporated. Mix in the second portion of flour until incorporated. Add the remaining third of the flour in short pulses, just barely mixing it. Do not overmix.
3. Place the dough on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Flatten it out into a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before baking.
4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
5. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a 12-inch circle, about 1/4-inch thick. With a fork, poke holes in the dough. Smear the remaining 2 tablespoons of room-temperature butter all around the inside of a 9-inch pie plate. Carefully lay the dough into the pie plate and press it into place. Using a knife, trim the extra dough from the top edge, if any. Place the shell in the freezer for 10 minutes.
6. Cover the cold shell with a piece of parchment paper and fill it with dry beans or pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes.
7. While the tart dough is in the oven, make the filling: Puree 2 pounds of the strawberries and the granulated sugar in a blender until smooth and pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Microwave the chocolate on high, at 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until melted.
8. Pour the strawberry puree into the chocolate and mix with a whisk. Stir in the heavy cream, whisking constantly. Beat the remaining 2 eggs in a small bowl and add to the chocolate mixture; whisk until combined.
9. After the tart shell has baked, remove the weights and parchment and let cool for a few minutes. Leave the oven on.
10. Pour the chocolate mixture into the shell and bake the tart for 30 minutes, or until the filling is set in the center but not solid. Test for doneness by shaking the pie plate gently; the tart should still jiggle slightly. Allow the tart to cool.
11. Finish the tart by arranging the remaining fresh strawberries on top.
Per serving: 391 calories; 28 g fat; 15 g saturated fat; 113 mg cholesterol; 6 g protein; 37 g carbohydrate; 24 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 53 mg sodium; 32 mg calcium.
Recipe from "Sweet Magic" by Michel Richard and Peter Kaminsky
Charlotte Au Chocolat
Yield: 8 servings
34 ladyfingers, see note
3 tablespoons Chambord, Kahlua or coffee
3/4 cup water
8 ounces dark chocolate
12 tablespoons butter cut into small cubes
1/2 cup superfine sugar, see note
Fresh mint, optional
Powdered sugar, optional
Notes: Ladyfingers are found in many grocery stores.
To make superfine sugar, blend granulated sugar in a blender for 10 seconds.
1. Cut out a piece of parchment paper to completely fit the bottom of an 8-inch cake pan (be sure it is at least 2 1/2 inches high) or a springform pan. Line the inside rim of the pan with ladyfingers; they will stand up easier if you cut off the rounded part on one end.
2. Combine Chambord, Kalhua or coffee with the water in a wide bowl. Briefly dip more ladyfingers in the liquid and use them to more or less cover the bottom of the pan. Do not discard the liquid.
3. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Stir in the butter until completely blended.
4. Separate the eggs, keeping certain not to let any of the yolk get into the whites (it's best to crack each egg over a small bowl to catch the whites and pour each white into a larger bowl; that way you won't ruin more than 1 egg). Whisk 3 of the yolks in a large bowl with the sugar until the mixture whitens. Reserve the other yolks for future use. Add the chocolate mixture to the yolks and thoroughly mix.
5. Whisk or beat the whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture until just thoroughly combined. Pour, spoon or pipe half of the chocolate mousse into the mold. Dip more ladyfingers into the liquid and create another layer on top of the mousse. Top with the remainder of the mousse. Refrigerate at least 3 hours.
6. To serve, invert the mold onto a large plate — the mousse should be set enough that it will not slip. Remove the parchment paper and then invert this plate back onto a serving platter. Decorate with raspberries, pistachios, leaves of mint or powdered sugar, if you wish.
Per serving: 484 calories; 37 g fat; 21 g saturated fat; 239 mg cholesterol; 33 g protein; 36 g carbohydrate; 24 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 96 mg sodium; 52 mg calcium
Raspberries, pistachios, mint and powdered sugar are not included in analysis.
Translated from a recipe by Olivier Berte.
Chocolate Cream Pie
Yield: 8 servings
3 eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour or 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk, scalded
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 baked (9-inch) pie crust
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, divided
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slightly beat the egg yolks; set aside.
2. In a medium pot over medium heat, mix together 2/3 cup of the sugar, flour and salt; gradually stir in milk and chocolate and cook until chocolate melts and mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir a very small amount into the egg yolks; stir another very small amount into the yolks, and keep adding and stirring until the eggs are hot (you will have added about 1/4 of the milk mixture). Gradually pour the yolks back into the thickened milk and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add butter and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla and cool slightly; pour through a fine-mesh strainer into baked pie crust.
3. Combine egg whites, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and cream of tartar in a large bowl and beat to stiff peaks. Gradually beat in the remaining 1/3 cup sugar. Spread this meringue on top of the pie and bake until delicately brown, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and then chill in refrigerator.
Per serving: 342 calories; 15 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 83 mg cholesterol; 7 g protein; 46 g carbohydrate; 32 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 288 mg sodium; 86 mg calcium.
Adapted by Florence Pikrone from "America's Cook Book" by the New York Herald Tribune Home Institute, 1943.
In Chocolate Shells
Yield: 16 pieces
2 cups dried, sweetened, flaked coconut
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg white
Pinch of coarse salt
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons coconut oil (or corn syrup if not observing Passover)
Toasted walnuts, toasted coconut, sanding sugar, colored sugar, fleur de sel, etc., for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine coconut, granulated sugar, egg white and salt in a food processor and pulse until just combined, scraping down sides of bowl if necessary. Add raspberries and pulse until just incorporated (do not over-process).
2. Scoop mounds of coconut mixture 1 inch apart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, using a 1/2-ounce (1 1/4-inch) ice cream scoop or a tablespoon to form small mounds.
3. Bake until macaroons are lightly golden, 28 to 30 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through cooking. Transfer macaroons to a wire rack and let cool.
4. Place chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water and stir until melted. Add coconut oil or corn syrup, stirring until combined, then remove from heat.
5. Dip bottoms of macaroons in chocolate or completely cover with chocolate (a flexible spatula will help with this), transferring as dipped to a wax-paper-lined baking sheet. Garnish as desired while still warm, then refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day. Serve chilled.
Per serving: 126 calories; 8 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 g protein; 15 g carbohydrate; 12 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 45 mg sodium; 6 mg calcium.
Recipe by Martha Stewart