Few days of the year convey as much sweetness as Valentine’s Day. Next to gifts of jewelry and bouquets of flowers, what could be more special than presenting your loved one with a homemade dessert? A tray of heart-shaped sandwich cookies or a coeur ˆ la crme heart with raspberry sauce is a great way to impart sentiments of love.

When it comes to culinary Valentine’s Day offerings, chocolate is probably one of the most popular gift items. Although much of the chocolate shared on this day takes the form of store-bought chocolate parcels packaged inside a heart-shaped cardboard box, homemade chocolate desserts – cakes and truffles – lend a more personal touch.

If you opt for culinary expressions this Valentine’s Day, remember that the sweetest gift you can give is one that you make yourself.

Valentine Heart Sandwich Cookies

Makes approximately 12 filled sandwich cookies
1-? cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
4 tablespoons cornstarch
? teaspoon ground cinnamon
? cup blanched almonds
? cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
? cup granulated sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
? teaspoon pure vanilla extract
? teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons seedless black raspberry jam
3 tablespoons seedless strawberry jam
3 tablespoons apricot jam
? cup confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, cornstarch and cinnamon. Using a food processor, pulse almonds until finely ground. Whisk almonds into flour mixture; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 to 4 minutes. Add egg, vanilla and lemon zest; beat to combine, scraping down sides of bowl. With mixer on low, add almond-flour mixture; beat just until flour has been incorporated.
Turn out dough onto a work surface. Divide dough in half and shape each half into flat rounds. Wrap each round in plastic wrap. Chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Remove one round of dough from refrigerator and let stand until slightly soft. On a large piece of parchment paper dusted with flour, roll dough out to 1/8-inch thickness. Transfer parchment paper and dough to a baking sheet; refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove one sheet of dough and parchment from refrigerator. Working quickly, cut into heart shapes with a 3-inch heart cookie cutter. Cut out center from half the shapes with a 2-inch heart cookie cutter. Transfer hearts to prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart; refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes. (Either bake the cutout centers of the hearts or re-roll them to make the larger hearts.)

Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until cookies are crisp and lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Spread a third of the uncut cookies with one flavor of each of the jams. Sift confectioners’ sugar over cutout hearts. Just before serving, place cookies with cutout middles on top of uncut cookies, so that jam shows through the cutout.

Coeur ˆ La Crme

Serves 6
4 tablespoons raspberry puree (from about ? pint fresh raspberries or 1 cup frozen raspberries, thawed)
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
? teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
Raspberry Sauce (recipe follows)
Fresh raspberries and mint leaves, for garnish

Cut six 8-inch-by-8-inch squares of cheesecloth, three layers thick, for each of the heart-shaped molds. Lightly dampen cheesecloth; line molds with dampened cheesecloth.

To make raspberry puree, press raspberries through a sieve, discarding seeds. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar together until smooth. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add vanilla extract and raspberry puree; mix well.

In a large mixing bowl, whip heavy cream with a large whisk until stiff peaks form. Fold whipped cream into cream-cheese mixture.

Evenly fill molds with mixture; smooth tops with a spatula. Fold edges of cheesecloth over mixture in molds. Place each mold on a plate to catch the draining liquid from cream-cheese mixture. Chill in refrigerator 24 hours before serving.

To serve, unwrap cheesecloth from each mold. Center a plate on top of each mold and flip plate and mold right-side up. Remove molds and carefully pull off cheesecloth. Serve with Raspberry Sauce; garnish with fresh raspberries and mint.

Raspberry Sauce

Makes about 3/4 cup
1 pint (1-? cups) raspberries
? cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Combine raspberries, sugar and lemon juice in a small nonreactive saucepan over low heat. Cook until berries release their juice and break down, about 5 minutes.

Use a rubber spatula to press berries through a fine sieve; discard solids. Let cool; refrigerate until ready to use. This sauce may be made a day ahead.

Molten Chocolate Cakes

Makes 6 individual cakes
? cup (1? sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for buttering custard cups or ramekins
Granulated sugar, for dusting custard cups or ramekins
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 large whole eggs
3 large egg yolks
?/? cup sifted confectioners’ sugar, plus more for garnish
1? teaspoons pure vanilla extract
? cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Mocha Cream (recipe follows)
Chocolate Spirals (recipe follows)

Butter six 6-ounce custard cups or ramekins. Sprinkle inside of custard cups or ramekins with sugar, tap out excess and set aside.

In the top of a double boiler or heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, combine butter and chocolate. Melt over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together eggs, egg yolks, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla on high speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or until eggs become thick and pale yellow.

Add melted chocolate mixture; beat to combine. Sift flour and cocoa over chocolate mixture; beat on low speed just until combined. Divide batter evenly among prepared dishes.

Place filled baking dishes on a baking sheet; bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until sides have set but centers remain soft.

Invert each baking dish onto a plate and let rest for 5 minutes. Release cakes from baking dishes. Serve with Mocha Cream and Chocolate Spirals.

Mocha Cream

Makes 1/2 cup
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a small bowl, dissolve espresso powder in 1 teaspoon hot water.

In a chilled bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat heavy cream, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract and espresso mixture on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Use immediately or transfer to refrigerator until ready to garnish cakes.

Chocolate Spirals

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening

In the top of a double boiler or heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt chocolate and shortening over low heat. Once melted, cool mixture slightly.

Place chocolate mixture in a resealable plastic bag. Snip off one corner of the bag. Pipe spiral designs directly onto a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Let designs stand until dry; peel garnishes from waxed paper.

Chocolate Truffles

Makes about 3 dozen truffles
12 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
? cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1 tablespoon Armagnac
Chopped nuts, confectioners’ sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, colored sanding sugar (optional)
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (optional)
2 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped (optional)

Place semisweet chocolate in a large heat-proof bowl. Bring cream to a boil in a small, heavy saucepan; pour over chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in vanilla extract or Armagnac. Refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Shape chocolate mixture into 1-inch balls. Place chocolate rounds on prepared baking sheet; freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

If desired, roll truffles in chopped nuts, confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder or colored sanding sugars. Alternatively, in a small, heavy saucepan, melt bittersweet chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over low heat. Working quickly, coat truffles, one at a time, with melted chocolate; let excess drip off. Place truffles on prepared baking sheet and let stand until firm, about 30 minutes.

If desired, melt white chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over low heat. Transfer melted chocolate to a small resealable bag; snip a tiny corner off bag. Pipe melted chocolate onto tops of truffles.

Chill truffles until firm. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.