When a craving overtakes you, sometimes you have to satisfy it. We get it. You can't stop dreaming of rich, fudgy brownies cradling crystals of fleur de sel, moist pound cake bursting with lemon sunshine, caressed by a dollop of fresh whipped cream and crowned by glittering berries, or smooth, yet intense, hazelnut gelato, so sultry on the tongue you wish it would never end. These sweet, decadent, and sometimes forbidden foods are salacious in and of themselves, whether it's Valentine's Day or not. The trick is to make this dessert an exclusive, one-night-only engagement for you and your plus-one.
Christina Lane knows how to make that magic happen. She wrote the cookbook Sweet & Simple: Dessert for Two, to share her favorite desserts in the easiest recipes possible that make enough for only two people, so there are no leftovers to tempt you in the morning.
"If you're going to make a whole pan of brownies, you might eat the whole pan of brownies. We've all been there," says Lane, 32. While all her books are about small-batch cooking, this third cookbook is more laser-focused on her personal passion for fruity over chocolatey desserts, and uses shortcuts like store-bought pie crust to keep it simple. She has a fourth book on the way, which will have a more savory flavor.
A wife and mother in St. Louis, Missouri these days, Lane was single in 2010, when she hatched the Dessert for Two blog that started her small-batch success. She was a Dallas transplant in northern California, working in greenhouse production after earning her master's degree in horticulture. "I had too much time after getting off work at 3 p.m.," Lane says. "I was away from home and my family, so I found myself calling my mom for family recipes like Texas chocolate sheet cake, which I learned to scale down. I'd crave her desserts."
When she found a tiny cake pan at a store, Lane had her eureka moment. "I thought, 'This is it! I get to eat what I love in small-sized versions.'"
Try your own dessert for two on Valentine's Day or any day that ends in "y," keeping these tips in mind:
- You don't have to run out and scour stores for adorable mini baking dishes. Maybe eventually you'll want to do that, but there are many small-batch desserts you can make with the dishes you already have in your kitchen, such as a bread-loaf pan for baking two large brownies, a muffin tin for mini pies, and ramekins for the rest.
- When you're ready to buy mini bakeware, try Sur La Table, Amazon.com, Michael’s, or other craft and cake-decorating stores. The first thing to get is a 6-inch cake pan that's 2-inches high. Don't get the 3-inch-high pan, which will make the cake sink.
- "Make sure your baking soda and baking powder are not a decade old," Lane says with a laugh.
- Lane doesn't give advice on doubling or tripling her small-batch recipes, but when she's testing how to create small versions of regular-sized recipes, she starts by cutting all the ingredients in half, and comparing that result with the taste and texture of the full-sized dessert. When she needs to split an uneven number of eggs, she has a rule. If the original recipe called for three eggs, she'll use two egg whites and one egg yolk for cakes, and two egg yolks and one egg white for brownies and cookies. Cakes can use a fluffy binding agent like egg whites, and the fat-filled yolk makes brownies and cookies that much more intense.
- "I like Silpats (the baking mat) because they keep cookies from spreading too much," she says, "although in my book's second recipe (easy chocolate-hazelnut cookies), I want them to spread and get crispy on the edges and gooey in the middle, so I use parchment."
- For Valentine's Day, Lane plans to make her cherry dessert with the pie-dough hearts from the cover of her book. But she recommends staying with chocolate, like a chocolate pot in those mini crème brûlée ramekins, similar to chocolate molten lava cake. Learn the difference between fudge and chocolate, and find your favorite among our chocolate recipes, maybe even one of our 11 Luscious Chocolate Cakes for Valentine's Day.
"Chocolate is the classic thing to do for Valentine's Day. It just feels right," Lane says. Here are three other sweet ideas from Lane's book:
1. Coconut Panna Cotta
It doesn't take much more than some coconut milk, gelatin, figs, and honey to make this delicacy come to life. It's also dairy-free and naturally sweetened. Do this dessert ahead of time though, because it needs at least four hours to set in the fridge. Get our Coconut Panna Cotta recipe.
2. Easy Toffee
Crunchy, sweet, and nutty, toffee is the thing. Similar to Lane's panna cotta, this sweet treat requires about four hours to set but you only need a few ingredients to make it happen: almonds, chocolate chips, salt, sugar, and butter. Get our Easy Toffee recipe.
3. Easy Baked Alaska
If you can buy a couple slices of pound cake and a tiny carton of sorbet, it won't take long to make this classic dessert that whips up chills, in a good way. Get our Easy Baked Alaska recipe.
— Head Photo: Dessert for Two.
Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She's trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.