The true origins of the day of love and kisses named for a saint are shrouded in the mists of time, but the first mention of St. Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday appeared in the writings of Chaucer in 1382. During the medieval period a focus on illicit but chaste courtly love began, with knights presenting roses to their maidens and celebrating their beauty in song and poetry. As sugar was a precious commodity in Europe at that time, candy-filled hearts were not on offer.



By the early 1600s, the vogue for chocolate had swept across Europe and chocolate houses began to rival coffee houses as social gathering spots. When Marie Antoinette married Louis XVI in 1770, she brought her personal chocolate maker to Versailles.



By the 1840s, the notion of Valentine’s Day as a holiday to celebrate romantic love had taken over most of the English-speaking world. Prudish Victorians, who adored the notion of courtly love, showered each other with elaborate cards and gifts, but the marriage of Valentine’s Day with chocolate wasn’t consummated until British chocolate manufacturer Richard Cadbury recognized a great marketing opportunity for the new “eating chocolates” his family business had recently developed and started selling them in beautifully decorated heart-shaped boxes that he himself designed. Once the chocolates had been eaten, people could use his boxes to save mementos and love letters.



While boxes of Valentine chocolate still get the message across, homemade treats are even more appreciated. They can be elaborate or simple, but must be chocolate. There’s nothing simpler to put together than chocolate bread pudding. Gussy it up by using cinnamon raisin bread, brioche or leftover croissants, bake it in a heart-shaped pan if you have one — no matter how you do it, nothing beats warm, comforting pudding on a cold February day.

Chocolate Bread Pudding

612 cups stale bread cubes
112 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup sugar
12 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
3 cups half and half
6 large eggs
12 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325° and butter the bottom and sides of a 2-quart baking dish or 9x13-inch pan. Toss bread cubes with one cup of chocolate chips and place in prepared pan. Combine remaining chocolate bits with sugar, cocoa, and 11⁄2 cups of half and half in a saucepan set over low heat. Cook, stirring, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is thickened and smooth. Transfer to a large bowl and whisk in remaining half and half, then the eggs, salt and vanilla. Pour mixture over the bread cubes and let rest for 30 minutes or so until custard is absorbed by bread, then bake pudding for 45 to 50 minutes, until it’s set. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving warm with whipped cream or ice cream.







If you want to showcase your dessert-making skills and spend a bit more time impressing your Valentine, try assembling a raspberry-brownie trifle. You’ll need a clear glass bowl or trifle dish to show off your handiwork.

Raspberry Brownie Trifle

Brownies
12 cup flour
1 cup sugar
12 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
12 cup cocoa powder
Raspberry Sauce
1 12-ounce package fresh raspberries, plus extra for garnishing
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
14 tsp. vanilla
Raspberry Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
3 Tbsp. confectioners’ sugar, sifted
12 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. raspberry sauce
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-by-9-inch baking pan. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar and cocoa powder. In a small bowl, whisk together butter and eggs. Add egg mixture to flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool. For raspberry sauce, in a medium saucepan stir together raspberries, sugar and lemon juice. Heat over medium heat, stirring often, until raspberries are broken down, about 7-10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in vanilla. Strain sauce through a sieve to remove the seeds. Cover and place in refrigerator for at least one hour. To make raspberry whipped cream, combine cream and confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl and beat until stiff peaks are formed. Fold in vanilla and raspberry sauce until no streaks remain. For trifle assembly, cut brownies into 112-inch cubes. Place half the cubes in trifle dish, spoon 12 raspberry sauce on top and half the whipped cream. Repeat layers and scatter with additional raspberries for garnish.