Valentine's Day is such a love/hate thing... and I happen to love it! I think that's actually because of my mom. I can't remember a Valentine's Day when I lived at home when my mom didn't make us heart-shaped french toast and give us little gifts. Even after I moved out, she would still send Valentine's Day care packages -- only now I have to make my own heart-shaped french toast (or even heart-shaped waffles), as that wouldn't ship very well. She started such a great tradition and gave me so many great memories of Valentine's Day that it hasn't mattered over the years whether I've been single, celebrating with friends or family, or sharing the day with a special someone.
Valentine's Day may seem all commercialized now, but you don't have to celebrate it that way. It doesn't have to be about buying expensive presents or going out for fancy dinners on one of the worst nights to be at a restaurant. It's more meaningful to me that my boyfriend decided to bake corn muffins (from scratch -- a Cook's Illustrated recipe too!) to go with dinner the other night (the first time he's ever baked for me!) or that he offers to drive me to work at the bakery at 6:30 am than if he were to show up with a dozen roses on Valentine's Day or drop hundreds of dollars on dinner.
(I'm not a very good stealth photographer.)
It's more about the simple gestures you make that show someone you care. And since it's best to show people how much you care about them every day, you can just embrace Valentine's Day as yet another day to do something special with your family, good friends, or that someone special. For me, that something special is usually food-related -- hence, why the heart-shaped french toast is the first thing I associate with Valentine's Day.
One year one of my old roommates and I hosted a girls-only party and invited a bunch of our friends. We made lots of food, and everyone brought something too. We even had fondue, and it was fabulous. You could always use Valentine's Day as an excuse to eat and party with friends.
When I choose to celebrate it as a day for two -- instead of an all-out girls' gala -- I like to plan a special meal (or sometimes meals) and an extra special dessert. In some of my posts leading up to the big day, I'm going to offer you some fabulous Valentine's Day dessert ideas -- starting with this Sweetheart Cherry Cake from Lucky Leaf.
About a week ago, Krista (from Brunner) asked me if I'd like to make a cake using a recipe and pie filling from Lucky Leaf. She also mentioned she'd be sending along a heart-shaped pan (made by Wilton). Now I always get excited when I get things in the mail, especially free things, but this offer made me unusually giddy. I love baking, as you know, and I had actually been contemplating going out and getting a heart-shaped pan to make my Valentine's Day dessert this year. Krista had impeccable timing. Of course I responded that I'd love to try the pie filling and make the cake recipe she'd be sending along with it.
Here's what she sent (full disclosure -- all free): 2 cans of Lucky Leaf Premium Cherry Pie Filling, a recipe card for the Sweetheart Cherry Cake, a heart-shaped cake pan, and heart-shaped measuring spoons.
I was so surprised to find these adorable measuring spoons in the package along with the items I knew I'd be getting. They say cute things like "A spoonful of Devotion" and "A pinch of Bliss."
Lucky Leaf makes a variety of pie fillings from cherry to blueberry to chocolate creme. This was actually the first time I'd ever used a Lucky Leaf pie filling. It was interesting using the filling in a cake because it loses that gel-like consistency when it's mixed with batter. Even people who don't really enjoy pie might be able to find a Lucky Leaf recipe and filling they like.
The recipe I made is the Sweetheart Cherry Cake. It just seemed so perfect to me to be making a pink cake flecked with red cherry pieces in a heart-shaped pan.
Sweetheart Cherry Cake (from Lucky Leaf)
1 (18.25 ounce) dry white cake mix
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 (21 ounce) can Lucky Leaf Premium Cherry Pie Filling
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease 9 x 2 1/2-inch heart-shaped cake pan.
Mix together on medium speed, dry cake mix, eggs, baking powder, both extracts, and 1 can of Lucky Leaf Premium Cherry Pie Filling. (You can blend in half the can and then stir in the other half, but I blended all of it because I wanted to have cherry pieces rather than whole cherries in the cake.)
Pour batter into pan, and level with a spatula.
Bake for 55 to 65 minutes or until wooden skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean. (A toothpick won't cut it here as the cake is about 2 1/2 inches high!) Remove cake from oven and allow to cool completely in pan. Invert cake onto a serving platter to decorate.
Buttercream Icing (from Lucky Leaf)
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
4 cups (1 pound) confectioners' sugar, sifted
2-4 tablespoons milk
pink or red food coloring (optional)
Cream butter and both extracts. Slowly add confectioners' sugar, beating well. Add 2 tablespoons of milk. Mix well. If needed, continue adding milk 1 tablespoon at a time until icing is smooth and spreadable. Mix in food coloring, if desired.
Lucky Leaf suggests frosting the cake with white icing and then spooning a half can of cherry pie filling on top. I considered doing this because it sounds fabulous, and it would have looked gorgeous, but then I decided to save the can to try a different Lucky Leaf recipe at some point soon or maybe to enter a contest Lucky Leaf is hosting -- more details at the end of this post.
Instead, I made my frosting pink, and then I made some chocolate hearts (Martha Stewart idea, which I'll tell you about in an upcoming post) and topped the cake with those. I had them standing up on the cake, but they immediately began to melt and drape themselves over the cake. It wasn't what I originally had in mind, but it still looked pretty.
Then I had my favorite photographer (a.k.a. my boyfriend) come over and help me photograph the final product. We both decided that it was a little difficult to tell the heart was a heart in the pictures, so to make it stand out better, we outlined it with mini chocolate chips. Yes, we pushed each one of those mini chips into the cake, pointed side down.
I really liked the pink and brown together and thought the final product looked like the perfect Valentine's Day treat. The cake itself was delicious. The combination of the cherry pie filling with the almond extract was just scrumptious. I'm a big fan of cherry-almond. Another decorating idea was even to press sliced almonds into the side of the cake. And I couldn't believe how incredibly moist the cake was. I bet a lot of that has to do with the pie filling.
I had toyed with the idea of splitting it into two layers and filling the middle with chocolate ganache. The cake really didn't need it though, so I'm glad I didn't. It might have been too rich that way. That's not to say I don't advocate adding chopped chocolate or mini chocolate chips to the batter if you give this recipe a try! But you can't really try it out unless you have your very own heart-shaped pan, right?
So now for the giveaway... Krista also told me that I could offer 10 readers the chance to win their own heart-shaped pans! So, if you'd like a chance to win, please leave a comment telling me what your Valentine's Day food plans are this year. Are you making an extravagant meal or dessert? Are you braving the packed restaurant scene? Are you having a festive brunch?
For another chance to win, tweet about this giveaway, and then leave a comment letting me know you tweeted and what your Twitter handle is.
For yet another chance to win, become a fan of one or both of Delicious Dishings' Facebook pages or become a Follower of this blog (see right sidebar), and leave a comment for each one you joined, letting me know that you joined.
Facebook Fan Page
And finally, if you link to this giveaway in your blog, leave another comment letting me know that you did so for another chance to win.
Please leave all of your comments by 11:59 PM EST, Wednesday, February 3. I want whoever wins to get their pans in time for Valentine's Day!
I'll be using the Random Integer Generator to select winners, so it's very important that you leave separate comments if you follow, tweet, or link to this post. Each comment is an entry. Thanks!
Remember to check back over the next two weeks for other Valentine's Day dessert ideas. If you're looking for a mouthwatering dinner idea, click here to see what I made last year. I have something equally delicious planned for this year, but you'll have to wait to find out what it is!
Winners have been announced!