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Sealed with a Kiss: Chocolate Heart, X & O Cakes

Heart XO Cakes

The symbols of X & O representing kisses and hugs are of course among the most recognizable symbols associated with love and, by extension, Valentine’s Day. I never really knew where this came from, though I assumed that the letters simply resembled their corresponding affectionate gesture: X looks somewhat like puckered lips, and O looks like arms in an embrace. (It’s an abstract depiction– go with it.) Working on this blog post prompted me to actually research the history of X’s and O’s… if one can consider Wikipedia ‘research’. It turns out my assumption was partially right, though the history is somewhat ambiguous. According to the wisdom of the internet, the X seems to have a religious origin, as many ancient symbols do; in early Christian history, the X was directly associated with Christ. Later, in the Middle Ages, people wrote an X on letters and envelopes to symbolize sincerity and faith, then placed an actual kiss upon it to signify a sworn oath. Eventually, the X came to symbolize the kiss itself and lost its religious significance. The O appears to be more modern, perhaps of North American origin. Somehow the two letters found each other and took on a collective meaning… and now people make cakes out of them. Clearly we have evolved as a civilization. 🙂

Heart XO Cakes 3

Over the years, I’ve collected an obscene number of cake pans of all shapes and sizes… many of which, I’ve never used! They were so cute, you know, *at the time*, but they’ve been sitting patiently in the cabinet ever since, waiting to make beautiful cakes to make someone happy. Alas, among this multitude of underutilized pans are my Mini Hearts, X’s & O’s silicone cake molds from Williams-Sonoma, which are about eight years old. They are comprised of 16 tiny wells (about 1 ½ inches long) for adorable Valentine’s Day cakes, and they’ve been ignored long enough! As this is the first V-Day since beginning this blog, I am so excited to bake a variety of romance-themed treats this month, including these rich, chocolaty little darlings.

Heart XO Cakes 4

If by chance you own this particular pan, it turns out cakes of the perfect size for serving alongside ice cream or whipped cream after a romantic meal with your honey. Or, if you plan to distribute small, individual Valentine’s treats to co-workers, this is a great recipe for that purpose as well. Alternatively, they make a great 10am snack… That’s perfectly normal, right? 😉

If you don’t have this exact pan, fret not! You can easily use any silicone cake mold with small wells. In fact, this is a recipe that you can use for any occasion if you change up the shape of your cakes.

A few baking notes to keep in mind:

  • In recipes where chocolate is the starring ingredient, the quality of your chocolate is of greatest importance. If you use mediocre chocolate, your cakes will be… mediocre. High-quality chocolate will produce the richest, darkest, most flavorful cakes.
    • For the chopped chocolate, I would recommend something like Guittard, TCHO, Valrhona, or Scharffen Berger. Ghirardelli is a good mid-priced option.
    • For the cocoa powder, use the darkest you can find. I strongly recommend Valrhona for its depth of flavor and color.
  • In reading over the recipe, I realized that these are actually more similar to brownies than cakes. In light of this, I tweaked a few method steps to resemble the method of my all-time favorite brownies from BAKED: New Frontiers in Baking, such as adding the eggs in two additions and folding in the flour with a spatula. I didn’t use that particular recipe here because those brownies are more fudgy, and I wasn’t sure if they would hold up when making tiny chocolate shapes in a silicone mold. This recipe produces a sturdier, though still moist, “cakey” brownie that will hold its shape.
  • The original recipe calls for baking at 375°F, but when I baked my first batch, the tops were slightly overdone. I would recommend baking at 350°F, which helped my second batch bake more evenly and come out of the molds more intact.
  • Feel free to decorate the tiny cakes with frosting, glaze, or Valentine candies, but all they really need is a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, as their cute shapes provide simple, yet jovial decoration.

Heart XO Cakes 5

Mini Chocolate Heart, X & O Cakes
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma (circa 2005– original recipe no longer online)
Yields approximately 64-70 mini cakes

  • 20 tablespoons (2 ½ sticks; 315g) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 8 ounces (250g) good-quality unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 ½ cups (235g) all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup (45g) dark unsweetened cocoa powder, such as Valrhona
  • 2 ½ cups (625g) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

Place the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl large enough to stir comfortably and to add other ingredients later. Set it over a pot filled about ⅓ with simmering water. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water, as the chocolate needs to heat gently. Melt the mixture over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter and chocolate are completely combined.

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Meanwhile, sift the flour and cocoa powder in a small bowl and set aside. When using cocoa powder, I usually sift twice to make sure any large chunks are broken up.

Once the chocolate mixture is melted, remove the bowl from the saucepan and add the sugar and salt. (Make sure not to let any steam or water drops from the pot get into your bowl, as it may cause the chocolate to seize up.) Whisk until incorporated; your mixture will look thick and grainy. Allow it to cool until just warm to the touch.

Heart XO Cakes 14

While the chocolate mixture is cooling, whisk the eggs and vanilla extract in a small bowl until well blended. Add the egg mixture in two roughly equal additions to the chocolate mixture and stir just until incorporated after each addition.

Sprinkle half of the flour/cocoa mixture over the chocolate and fold gently with a spatula (not a whisk), until most of the flour streaks are gone. Gentle folding helps prevent overworking the batter, which can lead to tough cakes. Repeat with the remaining flour, being careful not to overmix. Your batter will be very thick, shiny, and oh-so-chocolaty!

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Transfer about half of the batter to a large pastry bag fitted with a medium round decorating tip, such as Ateco #804. I find that using a spring-loaded ice cream scoop is the easiest way to do this. Carefully pipe the batter into the wells of the cake molds, filling each shape about ¾ full.

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The molds should be placed directly on the oven rack side by side, which is tricky when the pans are full of batter because they are hard to keep level. (The original recipe says that you can place a metal cooling rack on top of the oven rack and place the cake molds on this second rack, but not all cooling racks are necessarily oven-safe, so I opted to just put the molds in really carefully.)

Bake the tiny cakes for about 15 minutes. If you are using molds with larger shapes, add a few extra minutes, and keep a close eye on the cakes towards the end of baking. The tops should be set (some surface cracks are okay), and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake should have a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Do not overbake or your cakes will be dry.

Heart XO Cakes 8

Taking your silicone molds out of the oven is an even trickier affair, since they will be hot! Using two oven mitts, carefully pull the molds out of the oven and transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Leave the cakes in the pans for about 10-15 minutes, allowing them to firm up slightly. If you try to take them out while they are very hot and soft, there is a good chance they will fall apart, leaving the bottoms in the wells of the pan (which will make your valentine very sad).

*Very* carefully, wiggle each cake out of its well and set them directly on the rack to cool to room temperature. (However, if you end up with some broken ones, the mistakes will be very delicious, trust me… 😉 )

Heart XO Cakes 9

Refill the pastry bag with the remaining chocolate batter. When your silicone molds are free, refill them and repeat the baking and cooling process. (You don’t need to wash the molds between batches, though you can wipe out any large crumbs with a paper towel if desired.) I was able to make 64 cakes (4 full cake pans), and there was a little extra batter that I didn’t use. Feel free to repeat until all your batter has been used up.

Heart XO Cakes 11

When the cakes are completely cooled, invert them so that the slightly rounded tops become the bottoms. Sift the confectioners’ sugar over them just before serving.

The cakes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days… if they last that long! Your valentine will be most grateful for your sweet efforts. 🙂

Heart XO Cakes 10

© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2013.

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. This includes recipes, photos, and all other original content. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Dafna Adler and Stellina Sweets with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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