savory coeur à la crèmes: appetizers for valentine’s day

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These recipes for Bresaola Coeur à la Crème and Lox Coeur à la Crème were inspired by my disaffected husband. On Valentine’s Day, I usually make the French dessert coeur à la crème, a sweetened, cream-cheese-based concoction that is molded, chilled, and served with fresh berries. It’s pretty, fresh, creamy, light…and fattening as hell. Coeur is French for “heart,” so it always seemed appropriate.

Because I had been using the recipe for years, and it seems that there weren’t too many innovations on the Web, I decided to experiment with flavors this year (I’ll post the outtakes, for your amusement, tomorrow). Gamely, my beloved spooned away at the new flavors (well, except for one). Finally, he confessed that he has never been that fond of sweetened cream cheese.

This, my friends, is marriage.

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So I set about making a coeur à la crème that he might like, my Valentine. One of his favorite breakfasts is nova lox and cream cheese on a salt bagel. It occurred to me that the base of the coeurs could be easily shifted to a savory, better-than-cream cheese foundation for all kinds of spreads that could be shaped into molds and chilled. And what better recipe than a smoked salmon, caper, lemon spread for Valentine’s brunch or as a canapé? Aha, maybe a variation on the good old-fashioned chipped beef dip, a holiday specialty of my stepfather, but fancied up with a bit of the Italian dried beef called bresaola and shallots? Even better, what about both! My husband liked his small sample of these spreads so much I was worried he’d sneak into the refrigerator in the middle of the night and break my heart(s).

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The coeurs are traditionally molded in a special heart-shaped mold with holes on the bottom to allow liquid to drain out as it sets up overnight. Two sizes are available in the US, one a bit over 7-in. and the other 4-in., both of which are available year-round at select stores on the Web, and around Valentine’s Day at local kitchen stores and Sur La Table. You’ll want two of the 4-in. molds for each of the recipes below. You mix up the filling, lay down cheesecloth in the mold, and let it sit overnight on a plate to catch the small bit of liquid that will seep out. Alternatively, you can use a small mesh colander or strainer propped over a bowl, then form a heart shape with your knife and spatula.

Bresaola Coeur à la Crème

You will also need two 4-inch (small) coeur à la crème molds and two squares of dampened cheesecloth to line the molds with plenty of overhang.

(A) Base:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened*

1/2 c. sour cream or crème fraîche

1/4 c. whipping cream

(B) Add-ins:

1/2 c. bresaola, finely chopped, or jar of chipped beef, finely chopped**

5-6 dashes Worcestershire sauce

1 T. horseradish

2 T. finely chopped shallots

2 T. chopped parsley

freshly ground pepper, to taste

With a hand blender, blend together ingredients in (A) until smooth and creamy. Be sure to get out all cream cheese lumps (softening the cream cheese first is key here). Fold in the rest of the ingredients with a soft spatula. Scoop out the mixture and place it in the cheesecloth lined molds. Do not skip the cheesecloth, as it will help you unmold the coeurs. Place molds on a plate and tap plate on counter gently to settle mixture. Fold the extra cheesecloth on top of the molds, then refrigerate overnight. Unmold and garnish with chives, parsley and/or black pepper, and serve with any cracker.

* A local company, Nancy’s, makes a good, non-stabilized cream cheese with active cultures. It is slightly sweeter than Kraft, though, and I’m not sure why since it doesn’t contain extra sugar. Sweeter cows, maybe? ;)

** Available at deli counters of upscale markets. Buy about 1/4 lb. and have them slice it very thinly, then roll, cut in thin ribbons, and chop ribbons with a thin, sharp blade. Keep bresaola refrigerated both before and after chopping while you prepare the other ingredients. You may substitute (as in my family’s recipe) chipped beef, the air-dried beef sold by companies like Armour and sold by the jar near the tunafish in supermarkets. The chipped beef will be less salty and the flavor milder than the bresaola.

Lox Coeur à la Crème

Prepare as above, using (A) for the base and substituting (B) with:

(B) Add-ins:

1/2 c. chopped nova lox or cold-smoked salmon***

2 t. lemon juice

zest from 1/2 lemon, chopped finely

1 t. horseradish

1 T. grated red onion (or shallots)

1 T chopped chives (or green onions)

4-5 dashes tabasco sauce

1 T. capers

Follow procedures as above. For garnish, you can use 1 T. of seeded, juiced tomato, 1 t. chopped red onion, and 1 t. capers. Serve with baguette slices or water crackers like Carr’s.

*** You could use the thicker hot-smoked salmon for a smokier flavor and chunkier texture, but I like the way this spread becomes a silky, creamy version of lox-and-cream-cheese.

Edited to add: I submitted this recipe to my first food blog contest! If you have a heart-shaped or otherwise hearty treat for Valentine’s Day, please consider submitting it here by February 15, 2008. If you need inspiration, check out the recipe roundup with all the entries.

5 thoughts on “savory coeur à la crèmes: appetizers for valentine’s day

  1. Sherri 8 February 2008 / 6:15 am

    Mmmm… now this sounds so good, I will be making this soon, and will take pictures and post them. I think my hunny would love it! Thanks!

    Like

  2. Eugenia 8 February 2008 / 12:37 pm

    I hope he does! Can’t wait to see the pics. Please do let me know if something needs tweaking — this is a brand-new recipe and I’m totally open to suggestions, as always.

    Like

  3. zorra 10 February 2008 / 1:14 am

    Yummie, it don’t have to be sweet at all! You gave the proof. Thank you for your participation.

    Like

  4. Tina 11 February 2008 / 9:42 am

    Fabulous!! A perfect appetizer for a night of love ;)

    Like

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