Every year millions of people exchange chocolates on February 14th for Valentine's Day. This trend has grown very popular in recent times, especially with the rise of quality chocolates (...and the number of chocoholics). Still, even in these modern times there are a few things you need to consider before you run out and grab a chocolate gift.
Fresh chocolates are the best to get
Some of the larger chocolate candy makers make their chocolates for the "busy season" (December through February) as early as summer time. That means that some of the packaged chocolates you can purchase are several months old. Also, some of these chocolates are made with added preservatives which allow the chocolates to stay good longer, but can affect the taste.
To get around this it is recommended you buy from a local chocolatier, candy store, or bakery who can produce a fresh chocolate treat for you (or at least one that is only a day or two old). If you are sending your chocolates to someone far away, check to see if there is a good local place that could deliver fresh chocolates for you and lessen the chance of shipping mishaps.
Nothing beats a homemade gift
For a more personal touch you can make your own box of chocolates to give to your valentine. Don't worry if you are not a whiz in the kitchen - even if your gift does not turn out perfectly, it will earn extra points because you made it especially for them. There are many books, magazines, and websites to turn to for help and guidance so you do not have to go it alone. This is also a chance for you to personalize the chocolates an make them extra special by adding your valentine's favorite fruits, nuts, liqueurs, flavors, etc. See the Chocolate Truffle recipe below for a good way to make your own homemade gift.
The shape of love
While hearts are often a common theme used for shaping chocolates and gift boxes, you can use any shape that would appeal to your valentine, such as flowers. You can be creative with cookie cutters, stencils, or decorator's icing to give your chocolates extra flair, such as drawing a heart, smiley face, or bow on your chocolates. Also consider the different ways you can dress up the gift box with ribbons, flowers, handwritten love poems, etc.
Milk chocolate is not the only chocolate out there
While most Americans favor milk chocolates, don't be afraid of using dark chocolate in your gift; for instance, you can do a mixed selection of 1/2 milk chocolate and 1/2 dark chocolate. If you are not sure if your valentine likes dark chocolate you might want to go for the mild and sweet taste of semisweet chocolate. If you want to go for intense chocolate flavor then go with the bittersweet dark chocolate.
Generally, the higher the percentage of cocoa, the more bittersweet the chocolate will taste. If you are using unsweetened or baking chocolate, then you will want to mix it with something else, such as cream and sugar, to help bring down the intensity level.
Timing is everything
It is important to give the right amount of time towards your chocolate gift. If you are buying the chocolates you need to get your order in early to help avoid the last-minute rush. Some places have a cut-off date that they will take Valentine orders, especially if shipping or local delivery is involved. If you are making the chocolates you might want to try a practice run to work out any kinks that might come up and to help you get familiar with the recipe.
The odds are good that you will do even better the next time you go through the recipe and you can make any adjustments you think would taste good to your valentine. Make sure you can get the ingredients you need from the store since the holiday rush can often deplete the local supply of chocolate, sugar, and other handy ingredients. If you purchase the chocolate early, store it in a cool, dry, dark place, not the refrigerator.
So much chocolate, so little time
There are a wide variety of chocolate gifts you can give: chocolate truffles, bonbons (chocolate shell with a creamy center), cake, brownies, fudge, cookies (chocolate, chocolate chip, chocolate dipped, etc.), chocolate dipped fruit/nuts/pretzels/whatever, and many others that you can purchase or make, so let your imagination run wild.
As a final tip, here is a recipe for making Chocolate Truffles to help you get started:
½ cup heavy cream
8 ounces semisweet dark chocolate (not chips), chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
Equipment needed: baking sheets, baking paper, pastry bag
1. Heat the cream in a saucepan until it is just boiling.
2. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate and butter until it is completed melted.
3. Let cool a few minutes, then stir in vanilla.
4. Wait until mixture starts to thicken, then form ½ - ¾ inch mounds using a pastry bag with a No.6 plain tip, a melon ball scoop, or 2 spoons to form the right shape.
5. Place mounds on sheet pans lined with baking paper. Refrigerate for a few minutes to set.
6. Roll the mounds in powdered sugar, then roll into roughly round balls between your hands, using more powdered sugar to keep them from sticking to you.
7. Then roll balls in cocoa powder until they are completely covered.
8. Let the truffles set on baking paper for about 10 minutes to finish.
Makes about 35 truffles.