Too many people leave their Valentine’s Day planning until the last minute. I know this from the many attempts people make to secure Valentine’s Day dinner reservations in my restaurants on Feb. 13 — or even on the 14th.
I want good fortune to smile on you this coming Valentine’s Day. That’s why I’m offering you more than a week’s head start to prepare one of the most impressive, yet surprisingly easy, desserts you could imagine to make and serve at home to your special someone. (And that shouldn’t necessarily stop you from taking him or her out for a special meal, either!)
From the time former Spago pastry chef Sherry Yard first introduced chocolate “purses” to our menu many years ago, guests have swooned over them. You won’t necessarily find them on the menu now; our new pastry chef at Spago Beverly Hills, Della Gossett, has many of her own amazing treats she prepares, to our guests’ delight, and she’s busily planning something special for this Feb. 14. But I still hear people reminiscing about those crispy golden bundles filled with chocolate, and some ask for the recipe.
So here it is. There aren’t that many ingredients, and this dessert really isn’t all that hard to make. But the results truly are something you and your valentine will remember.
I want to give you a jump on the recipe, especially because there’s one ingredient you’ll need to look for. It’s brik (sometimes spelled “brick”), a traditional North African pastry that is the complete antithesis of the image its name conjures for English speakers. You’ll find it in well-stocked ethnic markets, and you can also buy it on the Internet. Thin, fresh Chinese egg-roll wrappers may be substituted. You’ll also, by the way, want to make the effort to buy excellent-quality bittersweet chocolate.
Take special care to handle the brik very carefully so you don’t tear it while preparing the recipe. The reason: Each square of the fragile dough is wrapped around a filling of rich, thick, dark-chocolate mousse, then baked in a hot oven until the pastry turns crispy and the filling is warm and oozing.
This may sound like quite a feat to pull off, but if you work deliberately, it’s really quite easy. And, for the little bit of effort that goes into preparation, the results are nothing short of spectacular.
The quantities in my recipe yield eight servings — certainly more than you’d need at a special dinner for two. But the filling will keep in the refrigerator for several days, so you can assemble and bake them in batches if you like. And I suspect you and your loved one just might want seconds.
Have a deliciously romantic Valentine’s Day!
SPAGO’S FAMOUS WARM CHOCOLATE PURSES
1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 pound unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
6 large cage-free eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
8 sheets brik pastry (sold in packages in Mediterranean food stores and online)
8 pieces kitchen string, each 10 inches long
1 tablespoon powdered sugar, for dusting
Fresh berries, for garnish, optional
Put the chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof mixing bowl. Rest the bowl on the rim of a saucepan filled with 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Stir the chocolate and butter together as they melt, until thoroughly blended, continuing until the mixture has a smooth consistency. Remove the pan from the heat. Stirring continuously with a wire whisk, sprinkle in the flour until smoothly combined.
Combine the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk at medium speed until the mixture is lemon yellow and has doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and add the chocolate mixture all at once, scraping it from its bowl with a rubber spatula. Stop the mixer briefly to scrape down the sides of the bowl with the spatula. Continue mixing until well combined; then scrape down the bowl again. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
About 30 minutes before you plan to serve the purses, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Meanwhile, working one at a time, carefully peel off a sheet of brik pastry from the parchment it’s packed with. Lay the sheet on a clean, dry work surface, and spoon into its center 1/2 cup of the chilled chocolate mixture. Taking special care not to tear the pastry, gently lift the sides up around the filling, gathering them together like the petals of a flower; then, with a piece of kitchen string, gently tie the little purse shut, securely but not too tightly. Place on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pastry sheets and filling.
Bake the purses for 10 minutes. Turn the baking sheet around front to back, and bake until the pastry edges of the purses are golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes longer.
Remove the baking sheet from the heat. With the tip of a pair of kitchen scissors, carefully snip each string and remove it.
Very carefully transfer the warm purses to dessert plates. Hold a small wire-meshed sieve over each purse, spoon the confectioner’s sugar into the sieve, and tap the rim of the sieve to dust the purse. Serve immediately, garnished with fresh berries if you like.