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Valentine's Day sweets for your sweetie — Or yourself, because you deserve it!

Oatmeal, maple, pecan, raisin cookies. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
Oatmeal, maple, pecan, raisin cookies. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

Valentine’s Day can be problematic. Are you in love? Out of love? Alone? In a partnership?  No matter your love status, you deserve something sweet, something special.

Sure, you could buy a box of chocolate, or a dozen roses, and be like everyone else. Or you could put on an apron and bake something to share the love.

Here are three desserts that work well for any season, any holiday, any day when you need a little lift. And if your true love happens to be football, rumor has it that there’s a little game this Sunday. Any of these would be ideal for a Super Bowl Sunday gathering. A textured, crunchy cookie chock full of fruit, oats and spices. A beautiful honey-filled cupcake. Or a simple loaf cake made with chocolate and sour cream with a chocolate-sour cream frosting. And a bonus recipe: a Mexican-style cinnamon-flavored hot chocolate.

Oatmeal, maple, pecan, raisin cookies

This is a love letter to the cookie. Picture crisp, crunchy edges with a soft middle. Taste the warmth of cinnamon and nutmeg and the wake-up flavor of ground ginger, mixed with toasted pecans, oatmeal, earthy maple syrup and plump raisins or sun-dried cranberries. Meet the new oatmeal raisin cookie. The cookie dough is best after it’s been placed in the refrigerator to sit for at least one hour and up to 24 hours. This recipe can easily be doubled. These cookies tend to go fast so you may want to consider that.

Makes 16 2-inch cookies.

Ingredients

Oatmeal, maple, pecan, raisin cookies. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

½ cup pecans or walnuts

  • 6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 small egg or ½ large egg, lightly whisked
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon fine salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • ½ cup golden raisins, raisins or sun-dried cranberries
  • Instructions

    1. Place a Silpat sheet or sheet of parchment on a cookie sheet and set aside.
    2. Place a medium skillet over moderate heat. Add the nuts and cook, stirring frequently, until the kitchen smells nutty and the nuts are beginning to darken in color. Remove, let cool for a few minutes and coarsely chop. Reserve.
    3. In a stand mixer or a bowl using a hand-held mixer, whip the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the maple syrup, vanilla and egg and beat until well incorporated, about 1 minute.
    4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar mixture, beating the dough together on low speed. Add the oats, raisins and chopped nuts. Mix until just incorporated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
    5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
    6. Scoop out about 2 tablespoons of the cookie dough and roll into a ball. Place on the prepared cookie sheet, leaving about 2 inches of space between each cookie. (They will spread while baking.)
    7. Bake on the middle shelf for about 15 minutes; the cookies are done when the edges are crisp and firm and the center is still slightly soft. Remove from the oven and let cool on the hot cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining dough.

    Honey cupcakes with cream cheese and honey frosting

    Honey cupcakes with cream cheese and honey frosting. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

    My good friend, cookbook author Katherine Alford, developed these honey cupcakes for “Rage Baking.” They are sweet but not cloying. Made with yogurt, honey and nutmeg, the cupcakes are topped with a simple cream cheese and honey frosting.  You can make or look for honeycomb candy to decorate the top of the cupcakes.

    Makes 12 cupcakes.

    Ingredients

    For the cupcakes:

    • Cooking spray or oil for buttering the cupcake tins
    • 2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
    • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
    • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • ¼ teaspoon fine salt
    • ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
    • ¾ cup sugar
    • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into small pieces, at room temperature
    • ⅔ cup plain whole milk yogurt
    • ⅔ cup honey
    • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


    For the frosting:

    • 12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
    • ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
    • ⅓ cup honey
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 teaspoon lemon juice


    Instructions

    1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners, mist each cup with cooking spray, or spread with oil.
    2. Make the cupcakes: In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, salt and baking soda. Add the sugar, attach the paddle attachment and mix well. Add the butter and mix until the mixture looks slightly yellow and the butter is evenly incorporated.
    3. In a large liquid measuring cup, whisk the yogurt, honey, eggs, oil and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Add the yogurt mixture to the flour mixture and mix until blended, 20 to 30 seconds.
    4. Scoop about 1⁄3 cup of the batter into each prepared muffin cup. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool in the tin on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Unmold and transfer the cupcakes to the rack and let cool completely.
    5. Meanwhile, make the frosting: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all the frosting ingredients and beat on medium speed until light and smooth, about 2 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
    6. Pipe, spoon, or generously spread the frosting on the cooled cupcakes.

    Chocolate sour cream cake with chocolate-sour cream icing

    Chocolate sour cream cake with chocolate-sour cream icing. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

    If a brownie and a chocolate cake got together it might taste something like this simple chocolate loaf cake. It’s rich and fudgy and works as well for dessert as it does as a snack with a cup of coffee or a pot of tea. I also think it would make a great breakfast cake as well. I mean, it’s February. Why not?

    The top of the cake is sprinkled with coarse sea salt but you could also decorate it with raspberries, orange or tangerine sections, or grated chocolate. The cake will keep for several days and gets denser, and more fudge-like, as it sits. Cover and keep refrigerated.

    Serves 4 to 6.

    Ingredients

    The chocolate cake:

    • Cooking spray or about 1 tablespoon canola oil for greasing the pan
    • 8 tablespoons (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted
    • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, or ¾ cup Dutch process cocoa powder*
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 ½ cups sugar
    • ⅓ cup canola oil
    • 2 eggs
    • ½ cup sour cream
    • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
    • ½ cup almond flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda*
    • 1 teaspoon fine salt


    For the chocolate-sour cream icing

    • 1 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped, or chocolate chips
    • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
    • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
    • ½ cup sour cream
    • Coarse sea salt, for garnish


    *If using regular unsweetened cocoa powder, add an additional ⅛ teaspoon baking soda. 

    Instructions

    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
    2. Generously spray or coat the bottom and sides of a loaf pan (9 x 5 inches) with the canola oil.
    3. In a large bowl, mix together the melted butter, cocoa and vanilla until smooth. Add the sugar and whisk until it dissolves and the batter is smooth. Whisk in the canola oil, eggs and sour cream; whisk until smooth again.
    4. In a small bowl sift together the all-purpose flour, almond flour, baking soda and salt. Add to the chocolate mixture and stir gently until all the flour is incorporated. Pour the batter into the loaf pan, smooth the top and bake on the middle shelf for about 1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 20 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick comes out clean from the center and the cake springs back when lightly touched with your fingers.
    5. Place on a wire rack and let cool for about 10 minutes. Using a kitchen knife, gently work your way around the loaf pan loosening the cake from the sides. Release the cake and place on a wire rack to cool.
    6. Meanwhile, make the icing: In a medium pot, heat the chocolate, corn syrup, sour cream and vanilla over very low heat, stirring constantly so it melts into a smooth icing. Once the chocolate is fully melted, remove from the heat.
    7. Once the cake is fully cooled, spread the icing on top; It may drip down the sides slightly which is fine. Sprinkle the top of the cake with sea salt. The cake will last for at least 48 hours, covered and refrigerated.

    Mexican-style hot chocolate with cinnamon whipped cream

    Mexican-style hot chocolate with cinnamon whipped cream. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

    This classic drink is adapted from a recipe by Rick Martinez, author of “Mi Cocina.” The earthy flavor of cinnamon is infused into hot milk, and it’s then whisked with chocolate, cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla and a hint of chili flakes. Top the drink with cinnamon-spiked whipped cream and it will warm up any winter day. The chile flakes heighten the flavor of the chocolate and add a wonderful flavor.

    Serves 2.

    Instructions

    • 1 cup milk
    • 2 cinnamon sticks
    • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped, or chocolate chips
    • 2 ½ tablespoons sugar
    • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
    • Pinch sea salt
    • Pinch chili flakes
    • ⅓ cup heavy or whipped cream
    • ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon


    Instructions

    1. In a medium pot, heat the milk and cinnamon sticks over low heat until warm, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the cocoa powder, chocolate, 1 ½ tablespoons sugar, half the vanilla, salt and chili flakes. Heat until the chocolate is melted and the drink is smooth and hot, but not boiling.
    2. While it warms up, whip the cream in a medium bowl. When it starts to thicken, add the ground cinnamon, remaining vanilla and the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar. Whip until thickened.
    3. Divide the drinks between two mugs, top with a generous dollop of whipped cream and add the cinnamon stick into the whipped cream.

    Other favorite Valentine’s Day ideas

    This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

    Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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