By Theresa Lemieux
I'm an accredited tea sommelier who lives in Toronto but left her heart in her hometown of Vancouver. I've always loved to bake and cook, and I'm always happiest when I have a big crowd to please. I do love simple food, but I don't mind complicated dishes, because truly delicious food is always worth the effort. I love to experiment with tea in my recipes, to help showcase the many wonderful types of tea that are produced around the world. I'm proud to be Canadian, and love to connect with my fellow cooks and tea-lovers.
True love captures you, whether you like it or not, and makes you captive to your emotions. This Valentine’s Day we’ve all been captive with our loved ones for a while now. We may need to dig a little deeper to conjure that passion we hope to celebrate. Especially when Valentine’s seems more like Groundhog Day this year; when we are in each other’s company day and night, without cessation, following the same unrelenting routine. No one would blame you for heading back into your burrow and staying there until spring.
But don’t do it! Don’t give up, don’t ignore it. Not even if you hate Valentine’s. Heralded by forced romance, inflated prices for floral arrangements, obligatory gestures, garish red satin and tacky black velvet—no wonder many of us have chosen the minimalist version in the past. Well, not this year. We need to remember to dress up for each other, to cook for each other, and to love each other. And in my world, love means chocolate. And tea.
For a Valentine’s dinner dessert this year, I decided to make the fanciest looking dessert that required the least effort (and included chocolate, of course). A little forethought, perhaps, but is that not love’s best gauge? Plan ahead, make this stunningly beautiful and simple dessert, and show your loved one(s) that familiarity breeds not contempt but ever-deepening affection. My husband and I may live and work together 24/7, but there’s no one I’d rather be holed up with.
So, in order to find the exotic in the everyday, we have to work a little. Thinking back to Like Water for Chocolate, I found the perfect inspiration. Like Tia, who infuses her love into the food she cooks, you too, can use tea and cinnamon to infuse the chocolate with love.
This recipe calls for an overnight infusion of the Cinnfully Cinnamon Tea and I’ll tell you why this is a great addition to this dessert: the balance of flavours from the tea and spices are the perfect foil to the other ingredients. (This dessert would also be lovely with the Pink Lady blend or Heaven on Earth. The rose petals are divine with chocolate and entirely befitting the theme of the holiday).
Black tea from China is a wonderful discovery for someone who was raised on British blends of Indian and Ceylon teas, as I was. Hints of smoke, earth, chocolate and malt all mingle with subtle equilibrium. I do love a cinnamon flavoured black tea, but the strength of the cinnamon can be overwhelming, used to disguise inferior tea. Not here! The cinnamon is a gentle if dominant presence but allows the excellence of the tea to shine as well.
And the tannins in the tea do not add an unwelcome bitterness. Instead, they provide the perfect counterbalance to the sugary sweetness of the meringue and the smooth, mouthcoating texture of the cream. Tannins are part of the flavour balance in chocolate, after all. They are part of the joy and decadence of tea-infused cream in my Mexican-French conflation.
I love Mexican chocolate, both for the flavours and for the spiciness. Cinnamon has historically been revered as an aphrodisiac, and add chocolate, well—I think we have found a lust-invoking finish to your Valentine’s Day meal.
Normally, I make a very robust Mexican chocolate sauce, with hot chilis and a host of other spices, but my usual recipe is too strong for this delicate stack of light flavours and textures. And this tea blend is perfectly balanced for this task: the orange peel and cloves are judiciously proportioned to enhance the flavour of the tea. If you like orange, by all means add a hint of zest, but not an entire orange, or that is all you will taste.
Now to the dessert this chocolate graces. In France, this dessert is called a Merveilleux, which just sounds sexy. Billowy meringue, fluffy whipped cream, spicy chocolate shavings? Makes the toes curl and the heart beat! You can make two bigger meringues, or little individual ones, as you please. It’s also an easy and fun dessert to decorate with children, if you celebrate as a family, since you can use any sprinkles or decorations you like on the outside, and pour warm ganache on top for flavour.
And if I can be sentimental for one moment more? This Valentine’s Day is coming after a long period of reflection about what (and who) truly matters to us. We’ve been forced to choose who we will be part of our inner circle, to make sacrifices for each other, reckon with loss. More mundanely, we’ve had to struggle to keep the love alive when we are with each other always. The answer is not less intensity, but more. As in tea, as in chocolate, so too for love.
Spicy Cinnamon Heart Merveilleux
For whipped cream
- ¼ cup Cinnfully Cinnamon tea
- 2 cups/1 litre whipping cream
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ cup egg whites (4 large or 3 extra large eggs), room temperature
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 cup superfine sugar (regular sugar blitzed in the food processor will do)
- ½ tsp vanilla
For spicy chocolate sauce
- 2 cups whipping cream
- ¼ cup Cinnfully Cinnamon tea
- 2 cups or 1 lb. chopped bittersweet chocolate
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp almond extract (or 1 tsp almond liqueur)
- Zest of one orange
- One dash chipotle chili
- One dash cloves
- Once dash allspice
- Extra cinnamon if desired
1. The day before you plan to serve your merveilleux, pour the cream into a large jar and add the entire ½ cup of tea. Let sit overnight.
2. The next day, remove the cream from the fridge and strain, pressing on the leaves to extract all the compounds. Divide the cream in half: half for the chocolate mixture, and half for the whipped cream.
3. Take the eggs out an hour before you plan to get started to allow the egg whites arrive at room temperature. You could easily make the meringues a day ahead, and just assemble them the day of. But same day works, too.
4. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and blitz your sugar (if you can’t find caster sugar, blitz regular in the food processor for about 20 seconds.)
5. Preheat the oven to 250°F.
6. Beat the egg whites until foamy, then add cream of tartar and whip until soft peaks form. Add the sugar very, very slowly, allowing for about 2 minutes to add it all in, one spoonful at a time. Whip in the vanilla extract.
7. Draw 8 little hearts—about 4 inches long—on the parchment paper. You can pipe your hearts but placing the meringue mixture in a Ziplock bag and cutting off one tiny corner, squeezing it out to make the heart shapes. Or you can simply shape them with a spoon. Or make two big hearts for one lovely messy big dessert. They should be generally the right shape but do not require precision.
8. Bake the meringues for 1 to 1 ½ hours until crisp and dry looking. If they brown a bit, turn the heat down another 25°. If your oven won’t go any lower, turn it off. Either way, leave them there for at least another hour. Set a timer so you don’t forget them? You’d hate to pre-heat the oven later on and find them all aflame.
9. Place half of the infused cream in a medium sized pot on the stove. Add the vanilla and sugar, stirring until well blended.
10. Bring just to a boil, then turn off heat and add chopped chocolate. Remove from heat and let sit for five minutes. Stir together until smooth and let cool to room temperature.
11. Whip the remaining (almost) two cups of infused cream with the vanilla and ¼ cup sugar. You don’t need much—the meringue is very sweet.
12. Place a dab of whipped cream on a tray lined with parchment or wax paper.
13. Sandwich your hearts with a generous amount of scented whipped cream, placing them on the dab. Then use a spatula or flat, wide knife to smear the sides and top of the meringue sandwich and pop it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
14. Here is where your creativity is called into play. You can refrigerate the chocolate ganache until it is spreadable and apply it with caution to the chilled meringues. Or you can drizzle it, still warm, over top and return them to the freezer to firm them up again. Use a thin flipper or to carefully remove it from the paper for serving.
More traditionally, you can take chocolate curls, chocolate chips, or shaved chocolate and press it into the tops and sides of the sweet sandwiches just before serving. Then serve the warm chocolate sauce in a gravy boat to pour all over each serving, saying something appallingly obvious such as “my heart melts for you.” Isn’t Valentine’s supposed to be kitschy? Sprinkle with edible rose leaves, if you have them, and serve with Cinnfully Cinnamon Tea. Tia would be proud.
Cinnfully Cinnamon Tea is the Lady Baker's Tea of the Month for February which means it is 20% off until the end of the month.