Serve someone your heart on plate this Valentine's Day. Claire Spreadbury revs up the romance.
If there's one day in the year when cooking should be a labour of love, it's February 14.
But you don't need to slave away over a three-course meal. Simply head to the kitchen, roll up your sleeves and make something sweet and sugary in the shape of a heart.
For a Valentine with more of a savoury palette, feel free to add to these recipes. You could nibble on foods known for their aphrodisiac qualities, such as asparagus and oysters, or you could buy a beautiful piece of skrei - a Norweigian delicacy that's just come into season and is known as the 'fish of love'.
But most lovers would be more than happy to be given one of these delicious and beautiful bakes, served with nothing other than two spoons.
Warm date and chocolate Valentine pots
100g chopped dates
50g white chocolate, broken into pieces
40g toasted chopped mixed nuts
75g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
75g unsalted butter
75ml semi-skimmed milk
60g caster sugar
2 medium eggs, whisked
1tsp vanilla extract
1/4tsp baking powder
A pinch of cream of tartar
50g ground almonds
Pre-heat the oven to 200C/Fan 180C/Gas Mark 6.
Lightly grease six ramekins or ovenproof espresso cups with a little butter (unless you're incredibly hungry, you can save some for another night).
Divide the chopped dates (Whitworths work well) equally between the ramekins or cups and sprinkle the white chocolate and the chopped nuts over the top of the dates, again equally dividing between the ramekins or cups.
Place the dark chocolate, butter, milk and caster sugar in a heavy-based saucepan and gently heat until the chocolate has melted. Transfer to a mixing bowl and stir until smooth.
Whisk the eggs, vanilla extract, baking powder and the cream of tartar into the dark chocolate mixture until evenly combined.
Gently fold in the ground almonds and divide the mixture evenly between the ramekins or cups.
Bake in the centre of the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, or until the surface is cooked but soft and fudge-like in the centre.
Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream or clotted cream.
:: Recipe courtesy of Whitworths
Almond chocolate Valentine tart
For the crust:
125g ginger biscuits
115g ground almonds
60g butter, melted
For the filling:
300g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
225ml whipping cream
3 medium eggs
100g flaked almonds
To make the crust, preheat the oven to 180C/Fan 160C/Gas Mark 4.
In a food processor grind the ginger biscuits, ground almonds and sugar. Add the melted butter and combine well.
Press the mixture onto the bottom and sides of a 23cm heart-shaped cake tin.
Bake the crust in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
To make the filling, combine the chopped chocolate and whipping cream in a saucepan. Whisk over a low heat until the chocolate is melted and smooth, then remove the saucepan from the heat.
Whisk the eggs, sugar and flour in a bowl to blend. Very gradually whisk the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until smooth and blended.
Gently stir in 80g of the flaked almonds.
Pour the chocolate filling into the crust and sprinkle the remaining flaked almonds on top in a heart shape.
Bake the chocolate tart for 30 minutes, then transfer onto a cooling rack.
Cool for one hour before serving, topped with strawberries.
:: Recipe courtesy of Whitworths
Chocolate berry Valentine's cake
175g soft margarine
175g caster sugar
150g self-raising flour
1/2tsp baking powder
For the filling:
100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
200ml double cream
225g strawberries, hulled and sliced
A little icing sugar, sifted
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4.
Grease the base and sides of a 25 x 38cm Swiss roll tin (or roasting tin with the same base measurement) and line the base with a piece of non-stick baking paper.
Add the margarine and sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer or food processor, sift in the flour, cocoa and baking powder, then add the eggs and beat until smooth, or mix in a bowl with a wooden spoon.
Spoon the cake mixture into the lined tin and spread into an even layer. Bake for 15-18 minutes until the cake springs back when lightly pressed in the centre of the tin with fingertips.
Leave to cool for 15 minutes, then loosen the edges and turn out on to a wire rack.
When cold, peel off the lining paper and fold the paper into three triangles, with the two outer triangles going one way and the centre one pointing the other.
Draw a large heart in one of the triangles that's about 14 x 20cm, then cut it out and use this as a template to cut two more hearts from the other triangles.
Lay the templates on the cake and cut around them with a small sharp knife. Check the shapes are the same by stacking the cakes one on top of the other and trimming a little off the sides if needed, then separate the cakes once more.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of very gently simmering water for about five minutes. Stir until smooth, then take the pan off the heat.
Slowly whisk in the cream until thick and glossy, then chill in the fridge for about 15 minutes until thick enough to spread.
Spread the cream mixture evenly over all three cake layers. Arrange a single row of raspberries around the edge of one of the cakes, then crumble the rest and arrange with the sliced strawberries over the other two layers.
Carefully stack the cakes together on a pedestal plate, if you have one, with the raspberry edged cake on top, then dust the raspberries with a little sifted icing sugar. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.
:: Recipe courtesy of www.seasonalberries.co.uk
:: Whitworths baking ingredients packets are available from Waitrose, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Co-op nationwide priced at £1.89 each.
Three of the best
Must-have Valentine's treats
:: Rosa di Cioccolato, £7.50, Carluccio's (in store and online at www.carluccios.com)
It may not last any longer than the floral variety, but a chocolate red rose will melt any heart. Comes gift boxed with milk chocolate gianduja hearts, and also available on its own or as a boxed dozen red roses.
:: Chateau Troupian Haut-Medoc Magnum 2010, £24.99, Ocado (www.ocado.com)
If chocolate is the food of love then let red wine be the drink. This rather magnificent magnum is bound to delight your Valentine. Who says size doesn't matter?
:: Love Bird Card, £9, Biscuiteers (www.biscuiteers.com)
Why send a traditional card when you can send hearts aflutter with a love bird biscuit, complete with your own special message?