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5 ridiculously easy, luscious, gooey and romantic chocolate recipes

This is the easiest chocolate cake ever.
(Jacob Cummings / For The Times)
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“What food carries a heavier burden of expectation and cliché than chocolate?”

That’s a question asked in a 2001 Valentine’s Day story by Charity Ferreira, a former L.A. Times Test Kitchen intern who went on to become a pastry chef at Greens in San Francisco, staff writer of Sunset magazine, editor in chief of Yoga Journal and author of several cookbooks.

Despite the clichés and expectations — and the declarations by some that chocolate desserts are often less imaginative than fruit desserts — most of us can’t get enough of the stuff. Especially around Valentine’s Day, when it’s assumed that all those pleasure-enhancing chemicals can get us in the mood for love.

It turns out, however, that a lot of the old studies and talk about the connection between chocolate and love get the science wrong.

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“Most [mood-enhancing] compounds are present only in small quantities in chocolate,” according to the BBC Science Focus newsletter, “and now some scientists say that they are probably almost entirely digested before they reach the brain.”

If you’re really looking for a hit of phenylethylamine (PEA) or “the chemical of love” in your food, says Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, you’d be better off eating sauerkraut instead of chocolate.

Of course, we don’t recommend that you try to seduce your valentine with sauerkraut sweets. A chocolate dessert made with love is still best for romance. And if things don’t work out, a spoon and a batch of homemade Nutella (used in Amy Scattergood’s Hazelnut-Chocolate Linzer Cookies) might be sweet consolation.


Finally ... all of us at L.A. Times Food were saddened to hear about the death at age 36 of chef Jonathan Whitener, who with Lien Ta opened two of Los Angeles’ most loved restaurants: Here’s Looking at You in Koreatown and All Day Baby in Silver Lake. As Betty Hallock wrote in her story about Whitener’s death, he was also a research and development chef for the Arthur J in Manhattan Beach. As a small way of honoring Whitener’s legacy, we’re including a recipe he shared with former L.A. Times Test Kitchen director Noelle Carter in 2018. You’ll find notes for the Heirloom Tomato Bagna Cauda recipe at the end of this newsletter.

Ultimate love cake, a.k.a. the easiest chocolate cake ever

The Easiest Chocolate Cake Ever
(Jacob Cummings / For The Times)

Pastry chef Ana Ortiz contributed this recipe last year for what she calls “the ultimate love cake.” She also says it’s “the easiest chocolate cake ever” — easier even than making pancakes — since it requires just one pan, one spoon and seven ingredients you probably already have on hand (plus optional powdered sugar and cardamom).

“From bowl to table it is done in about 30 minutes,” Ortiz says of the recipe based on the Swedish chocolate cake called kladdkaka. “And the skills you need to make it are minimal.”

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She adds: “If upon making it, you look at it and think ‘underwhelming,’ I wouldn’t blame you. It isn’t fluffy or tall (there is no leavening), nor is it frosted or otherwise decorated (you can garnish it with powdered sugar if you like). But it is melty chocolate heaven.

“Two more great things about this recipe: The flour can be easily swapped one-for-one with nut flour, making it gluten-free and more nutritionally dense. Almond flour makes the cake taste like a fancy, grown-up candy bar and adds an extra layer of flavor, and other nut flours such as hazelnut or pistachio are delicious as well.”

Get the recipe.
Serves 8 to 14. Cook time: 40 minutes plus cooling time.

Chocolate rum babas

023557.FO.0124.foods9.ls....Chocolate.Baba.––– Chocolate Rum Babas on Jan 24,2001
(Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times)

“There’s no better meeting place for forks and spoons than the cream-filled center of a chocolate baba — a tender, subtly chocolate brioche soaked with rum syrup,” wrote Charity Ferreira in her chocolate story for L.A. Times Food in 2001.

“These cream-filled, rum-soaked chocolate brioche are baked in 6-ounce ramekins, which makes them larger than traditional babas. The babas can be baked a day ahead, but don’t soak or fill them until a few hours before serving.”

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Get the recipe.
Makes 6 babas. Cook time: 1 hour.

Grown-up Mint-Chocolate Pudding

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 03: Fresh Mint and Chocolate Pudding in studio on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA.
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

“Even people who claim not to like the combination of chocolate and mint will enjoy this grown-up iteration that uses a splash of absinthe to balance the mint’s flavor,” our former cooking columnist Ben Mims wrote in 2021. Of course, he’s a big fan of the combination.

“I’ve never met a chocolate and mint-flavored food I didn’t love: mint-chocolate chip ice cream, mint-flavored Oreos and, especially, frozen Girl Scout Thin Mints — IYKYK,” he wrote. “Instead of cookies, though, I combine the two flavors into a silky pudding based on one I made when I was a pastry chef many years ago.

“To elevate the dessert beyond a candy pudding, I finish it off with a splash of absinthe. The liquor’s licorice-like, resiny flavor doesn’t really come through as much as it simply balances the candy-sweetness of the mint patties, grounding the flavor in a more sophisticated realm.”

Get the recipe.
Serves 4 to 8. Cook time: 20 minutes plus 8 hours unattended.

Hazelnut-Chocolate Linzer Cookies With Homemade Nutella

(Los Angeles, CA – Wednesday, January 28, 2009) Hazelnut chocolate Linzer cookies.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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For a 2016 story on Nutella, cookbook author and former L.A. Times Food editor Amy Scattergood developed this recipe for Hazelnut-Chocolate Linzer cookies. “Linzer cookies adapt beautifully to Nutella,” she writes. “They’re traditionally made with nuts in the dough and jam spread between two sandwiched cookies. This recipe capitalizes on those elements, using ground hazelnuts in the cookie dough and chocolate-hazelnut spread instead of jam. A faint note of orange in the cookies plays against the chocolate; a dusting of powdered sugar decorates the top.”

Get the recipe.
Makes 2? dozen cookies. Cook time: 1 hour.

Hazelnut-Chocolate Spread (Homemade Nutella)

Hazelnut-Chocolate Spread (Homemade Nutella)
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“Nutella isn’t just junk food with a European pedigree. It can be an obsession, a habit, even a cult,” Scattergood wrote in 2016. “Because Nutella isn’t exactly cheap, or maybe because I wanted a version without modified palm oil or soy lecithin, or maybe because I’m the sort of person who set up my Facebook page only so I could join a Nutella group, I decided to make my own.

“Making Nutella at home is a very earnest project, like deciding to mill your own flour or cobble your own shoes. But it’s surprisingly easy, and the results are pretty awesome. It’s neither as sweet as Nutella nor with that vague aftertaste that comes, perhaps, from the oils or emulsifiers. The hazelnut flavor is more pronounced and the chocolate is a little stronger, with notes that vary depending on which cocoa powder you use.”

Get the recipe.
Makes about 1? cups. Cook time: 20 minutes.

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Jonathan Whitener’s Heirloom Tomato Bagna Cauda

Heirloom tomato bagna cauda from Here's Looking at You. photographed at L.A.  Times 10/11/2017.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

“Marlo Van Oorschot and her husband couldn’t stop thinking about the heirloom tomato and bagna cauda dish they had at Here’s Looking at You in Koreatown,” Times Test Kitchen director Noelle Carter wrote in 2018. “The dish — wedges of ripe tomatoes placed over a layer of flavored crème fra?che and topped with bagna cauda (a warm Italian sauce made from olive oil, garlic, butter and anchovies), crispy bits of the Chinese sausage lap cheong and fresh chopped herbs — is a dramatic array of colors and flavors.”

“It’s kind of a play on a BLT sandwich,” said chef Jonathan Whitener, “with that flair on internationalism we have here.” Whitener was happy to share his recipe.

Get the recipe.
Serves 8. Cooking time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

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