Special occasions spell one thing in my house. Nope, not pulling a sickie or downing cava with your morning OJ (well, maybe...) but food. I mean, what else? A birthday is just a day to remind you how old and underachieving you are without a giant, sticky chocolate cake; Christmas would be little more than a very extravagant game of pass the parcel without the equally extravagant (and most of the time, entirely ridiculous) feast that gathers the whole family around the table and renders you unable to move until at least New Years Day.
A massive plate of perfectly cooked steak and chips, or a mound of gorgeously iced cupcakes speaks a thousand words. I mean, if you can be bothered to painstakingly fry an egg into a heart shape hollowed out of a piece of toast, you clearly care just a little bit about your breakfast date. And if there is any occasion that screams heart shaped yolks, it is Valentine’s Day. It is the one day of the year that you can get away with making no-holds-barred demands for candle-lit dinners and boxes of homemade truffles. It is without fail, the king and queen of chocolate, ice-cream, and, of course, morning-after breakfasts in bed. If ‘ya know what I mean...
And don’t go thinking that flickering candle light means you can get away with plonking down your usual beans on toast in front of your beloved. Val-Day is all about going to the next level. Be it curls of dill-flecked smoked salmon in place of spag-bol, a chilled bottle of cava instead of a jug of Ribena, an insanely overpriced 6 course tasting menu over your Big-Mac; it is the time to go big, red and silly. Crack out the hearts and flowers, loosen your belt, and get noshing.
If you (like me) plan on avoiding the chocolate sharing plates and red rose adorned tables of the restaurant scene on the 14th; why not have a go at this amazingly rich, luxurious chocolate and caramelised orange mousse. Bursting with orange zest, screaming indulgence with intense salted caramel and candied orange; this is a dessert that has romance rippled all the way through it.
And, as the egg-free mousse takes just minutes to prepare, this little piece of chocolate heaven is the perfect opportunity to dust off your apron and channel your inner Heston. Get fancy with some cutlery (for making quinelles, not serenading your love with an impromptu spoons performance), scatter over some roasted hazelnuts and finish with a grating of dark chocolate and you have a pud that may as well have been cooked by Cupid. It is the only way to say you care, even if your valentines date is a horror movie, a box of tissues and a giant tub of Ben & Jerry’s. Well, it would be rude not to...
Caramelised Orange Chocolate Mousse with Hazelnuts and Sea Salt (Serves 2)
Make the candied orange and salted caramel a day or so in advance and this will be the easiest dessert you will ever make. Leaving you plenty of time for gazing into each other's eyes, holding hands across the table and drinking more Cava than is truly necessary...
For the Mousse
75g mini marshmallows
90g dark chocolate
145 ml double cream
1 teaspoon orange zest
A good splash of Cointreau
4 candied orange slices, chopped (see below)
A pinch of sea salt
1tbsp salted caramel (see below)
For the Candied orange
2 oranges, sliced as thinly as you can
For the Salted Caramel
75g unsalted butter
70g soft light brown sugar
30g caster sugar
50g golden syrup
100ml double cream
1tsp sea salt
A few candied orange slices, halved and cut into small segments
1 tbsp hazelnuts, roasted and chopped
A few square dark chocolate
First, make the candied orange slices.
Preheat the oven to 200oc. In a bowl, toss the orange slices in the sugar until evenly coated. Arrange the slices evenly on a lined baking tray and bake for 25-30mins or until caramelised. Leave to cool
Now, make the salted caramel.
In a heavy based saucepan, melt the butter, sugars and syrup and simmer until a rich golden brown, swirling every now and then to prevent burning.
Add the cream and half the sea salt, and whisk to create a smooth sauce. Taste (being careful not to burn your tongue!) and add more salt if needed. Allow to cool.
Now, finally, for the mousse!
In a saucepan, melt together the chocolate, marshmallows, butter and water until thick, shiny and evenly mixed. Stir in the Cointreau, salt, orange zest and the chopped candied orange. Leave to cool
In a separate bowl, whip the cream until thick. Gently fold in the semi-cooled chocolate mixture and salted caramel until evenly mixed.
Now, to present! Arrange quinelles of the mousse, an artistic blob of caramel and some candied orange pieces onto your best plate. Sprinkle over the roasted hazelnuts, a grating of chocolate and present to your love. A guaranteed winner...