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Published February 05, 2009, 12:00 AM

An enchanting dessert for Valentine’s Day

When I was in college I had a hamster named Aphrodite. She was named after the Greek goddess of love. I was taking a Greek mythology class when I bought her.

By: Sue Doeden, The Dickinson Press

When I was in college I had a hamster named Aphrodite. She was named after the Greek goddess of love. I was taking a Greek mythology class when I bought her. Furry little Aphrodite made her home in a cage that I kept in an out-of-the-way office on campus where I worked on the college yearbook. While I created pages for the book, I’d often get a visit from a funny guy from the student newspaper. He later became my husband. That was my first experience with the power of Aphrodite.

It was much later that I learned about aphrodisiacs, foods said to enhance pleasure or romance. There has not always been agreement about which foods deliver this effect. Nor has there been research to give scientific proof to the matter. But, there is no doubt that foods that appeal to all the senses can cause excitement.

Last year I celebrated Valentine’s Day with that funny guy I married, along with our son and daughter-in-law in Texas. We had dinner at Bonnell’s, a Fort Worth restaurant serving fine Texas cuisine. Dinner was great, but it was the dessert I can still remember. A crisp, buttery cookie bowl took center stage. The large bowl held three scoops of creamy vanilla ice cream. Caramelized bananas and chopped fresh strawberries were strategically placed around the bowl. Rich chocolate sauce and a silky caramel sauce were drizzled and dabbed as lusty adornment. Did it excite? Oh, yes. Aphrodite was at work through these ingredients that do show up on many lists of aphrodisiac foods: almonds, bananas, strawberries and chocolate.

This year I’ll be preparing Almond Cookie Cups with Strawberries and Caramelized Bananas for just the two of us. It’s my attempt at recreating the dessert we had last year.

You can make the cookie cups up to four days ahead of time. Store them in a covered container. The bananas can be caramelized in the oven under the broiler. It takes just a couple of minutes. I also like to use my small kitchen blowtorch.

The cookies bake to a very thin disk. While they are still warm, they are draped over the bottom of cupcake tins to form small bowls to hold the ice cream. I always have a few that break. But the recipe makes enough so you don’t need to worry. If you’re only using one baking sheet, be sure it is completely cool before you bake the next batch of two cookies. Yes, only two cookies should be baked at a time. Otherwise you will have trouble when it’s time to transfer them to the muffin tin bottoms.

Use your favorite homemade sauces or purchase them from the store. I have a couple favorites that I like to use. You will find Chocolate Sauce and Caramel Sauce recipes on my blog. And, on my video this week, I demonstrate how to make the Almond Cookie Cups. Both can be accessed at this newspaper’s Web site.

So if you want to enchant that special someone on Feb. 14, make Almond Cookie Cups with Strawberries and Caramelized Bananas, dim the lights, lift your spoon and let Aphrodite take it from there.

Almond Cookie Cups
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup blanched almonds, ground
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut 18 (6-inch) squares of parchment paper. Place 2 parchment squares on an ungreased baking sheet. Set the other parchment squares aside.

Combine sugar and butter in medium mixing bowl. Beat at medium speed of an electric mixer until will blended. Add almonds and flour and mix at low speed. Add milk and beat just until it disappears. Dough will be sticky.

Place 1 tablespoon of dough on the center of each parchment square on the baking sheet. Dip a spoon into cold water. Use the back of the spoon to flatten dough into a 3-inch round. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes until golden. Cookies will spread during baking. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet for 1 minute.

Use parchment paper to lift each cookie and drape it over the bottom of inverted muffin tins. Remove parchment paper. Let cookies cool completely. Carefully remove from tin. Repeat process with remaining dough and parchment squares. Makes 18 cookie cups.

Ingredients for 2 servings of Almond Cookie Cups with Strawberries and Caramelized Bananas:
1 banana, peeled, cut in half across the middle, then each half cut lengthwise
1 cup chopped strawberries
2 Almond Cookie Cups
2 large scoops premium vanilla ice cream
Granulated sugar, for sprinkling
Chocolate Sauce
Caramel Sauce

Place cut banana pieces on oven-proof dish, flat side up. Sprinkle the flat sides with sugar. Place under the broiler until golden brown or caramelize with a kitchen-sized blowtorch.

Place Almond Cookie Cups on dessert plate or shallow bowl. I like to anchor the cookie cups with a little dab on caramel sauce on the plate. Dress it up with bananas, strawberries, chocolate sauce and caramel sauce.

Tips from the cook

--Blanched almonds can be purchased in the grocery store or you can blanch the nuts yourself. To remove the skins from the almonds, or blanch them, bring a pot of water to a boil, turn off the heat and drop the almonds into the hot water. After 30 seconds, drain the almonds in a colander or strainer and rinse them with cool water. Pinch the nuts out of their skins. The slippery nuts will slide right out. Set the blanched almonds on a plate to dry.

--The baked cookie cups are quite delicate and will break easily. You can freeze them, but be sure you pack them in a way that will protect them from breaking.

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