Valentine's Day should be something special, way beyond a box of chocolates or a bouquet of roses. Perhaps a memorable dessert is just the magic ingredient for love.
Creating unforgettable sweets for your sweetie on the sweetest day takes a little ingenuity, and for this we turn to a few extraordinary French liqueurs.
Chambord, made in the fertile and rich Loire Valley, is a luscious black raspberry liqueur infused with red raspberries, blackberries and currants and is finished with notes of vanilla, honey and ginger.
"With the flavors of berry, vanilla, honey, herbs and sweet aromatics, Chambord lends itself to a host of desserts and savory dishes," says Tim Laird, chief entertaining officer for Brown-Forman, one of America's largest wine and spirits companies. "Anything chocolate such as cupcakes, brownies or truffles make for perfect pairings."
The ambrosial characteristics of Chambord's top notes of raspberry are delicious as an aperitif or digestif for a romantic dinner, but it also pairs perfectly with dark and bittersweet chocolate, Laird says. That means when it comes to baking it can be used in a number of ways.
If your recipe calls for rum, or gin-soaked raisins, for example, substitute Chambord instead. Tired of vanilla flavoring in your recipes? Chambord is a sexy surrogate for vanilla, really adding ooh-la-la to any cookie or brownie recipe. Laird also says it can be added to marinades for savory dishes such as pork or added to cranberry sauce.
Adds Laird, "One of the easiest desserts is to add a little Chambord to whipped cream as a topper for cakes, pies, tarts or fresh fruit. I also like to use Chambord when making a raspberry sauce. Simply blend together fresh or frozen raspberries with sugar to taste and add Chambord. The Chambord takes the raspberry flavors to new heights."
Cointreau is another sweet favorite liqueur. One great thing about Valentine's Day is it is still winter and the prime season for fresh citrus and citrus flavors like Cointreau. Blended with both sweet and bitter orange peels, Cointreau brings home golden, fruity warmth.
Of course, like most French liqueurs, Cointreau pairs well with decadent chocolate desserts, but with both sweet and salty undertones, it can be sprinkled with a touch of olive oil on a citrus-based salad. And for your next seafood dish, it can be blended with butter for a more savory meal.
Then there's Grand Marnier, an elegant floral and fragrant orange peel-based cognac from France. Both sweet and strong, Grand Marnier is long on citrus with hints of oak and brown sugar. It's a real burst of flavor, a smidge more robust than Cointreau, so a little goes a long way.
While it dazzles in desserts, try mixing it with butter and marmalade for a quick spread that's delicious on crusty French bread — or use it as a base with peanut butter for a surprisingly good adult-style PB&J. Or add just a touch — a teaspoon or two at the most — in butter-cream frostings, cupcakes, muffins and fruitcake. It works well as a glaze for poultry, too.
Now for the Valentine's Day finish: Cap off your amorous evening with a half ounce, maybe an ounce at the most, of Chambord, Cointreau and Grand Marnier trickled into the bottom of a flute glass, then top it with good, no, make that great Champagne.
Other French liqueurs that work well with Champagne — and in cooking — and of which I have sampled and adore, are Benedictine with its unusual and exotic blend of 27 plants and spices, St.-Germain with its incredible elderflower scent and floral sweetness, or the rare Creme Yvette, with its subtle flavors of violets and vanilla.
Whether you're cooking or sipping, French-inspired liqueurs make quite the splash.