When it comes to Valentine’s Day chocolate, it pays to think outside the (heart-shaped) box.
Shoppers buying chocolates and other candy shell out an average $22.81, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s up 6% from last year. It’s also on top of the average $77.11 in spending on a night out for Valentine’s Day.
But there’s no need to spend so much to impress your sweetie. You can nix the box of chocolates and eliminate the need for a restaurant dessert with some inexpensive, but wow-worthy, chocolate treats to make and share at home.
We asked chefs, bloggers and other foodies to share their best spark-inducing chocolate fare. Here are 7 to try:
Slow Cooker Rocky Road Cake
Don’t bother slaving over a hot stove before your big night out. This slow cooker dessert can be left to simmer for a few hours without intervention.
For a Valentine’s twist, Meg Favreau, author of “Little Old Lady Recipes,” puts a layer of drained maraschino cherries in the bottom of the pan before adding the fudge.
To make her recipe, cook two cups sugar, two teaspoons corn syrup, one cup milk (or cream, or water), and four tablespoons cocoa over low heat.
Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to keep from burning.
Keep cooking until a bit of the mixture dropped into a glass of ice-cold water forms a soft ball (234 F).
Add an eighth-teaspoon salt, two tablespoons butter, and a teaspoon vanilla extract.
Let it cool until the candy can be dented with a finger. Then beat until thick and creamy and pour into an 8″ x 8″ buttered pan.
Mark in squares and let set.
Honey Chocolate Fondue
The addition of Scotch whisky to the chocolate fondue makes this typical kid treat more adult friendly.
Serve with an array of dried and fresh fruits, angel food cake, or cookies.
Vanilla Ice Cream Cake with Valentine’s Chocolates
Megan Romano of Chocolate & Spice Bakery in Las Vegas suggests this cake as a Valentine’s Day dessert — or as a way to use up any leftover chocolates.
To make, preheat oven to 320 degrees.
Place four ounces of butter in a mixing bowl and cream until smooth. Gradually mix in a half-cup of granulated sugar and then add a quarter-teaspoon of vanilla extract and an egg yolk.
Sift together three-quarters of an ounce cocoa powder, a quarter-teaspoon salt, and one cup all-purpose flour. Add to the butter mixture in two parts.
Place dough between two sheets of parchment paper and use a rolling pin to roll into a thin sheet. Chill for 20 minutes, then place on a sheet tray and bake for 8-10 minutes.
When the dark chocolate shortbread is cool, crumble for fine texture and press into desired mold for freezing the ice cream cake. Save remaining dough for layers. When assembling the cake, freeze for 15 minutes after each layer addition.
Layer as follows: dark chocolate shortbread, vanilla ice cream, fudge sauce, chopped leftover V-day candy, vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce, chopped leftover V-day candy, vanilla ice cream, and then top with fudge sauce.
When ready to serve, use a crème brulee blowtorch to warm the sides of the ring mold and lift to remove.
Use a sharp knife dipped in hot water to cut each slice of cake and serve.
Gluten-Free Chocolate Torte
Chickpeas as a main ingredient make this gluten-free dessert healthier and keep the cost low – about $5.
Despite the unusual ingredients, “the taste is all chocolate,” says its creator, blogger Jeanne Fiorini.
Triple Chocolate Nutella Cookies
A batch of these luxe cookies, from eMeals.com founder Jane DeLaney, cost just $4.79 to make.
The recipe: Whisk together 1 ¼-cups flour, two-thirds cup cocoa powder, a teaspoon baking powder, a half-teaspoon baking soda and a half-teaspoon salt.
In a separate bowl, combine a half-cup butter and a half-cup each of granulated and dark brown sugars; beat with an electric mixer on medium until creamy.
Add one-third cup chocolate hazelnut spread and 1 ½-teaspoon vanilla extract; mix until combined. Add half of the flour mixture, then one-third cup milk and then the remaining flour mixture, stirring well between additions.
Stir in a half-cup milk or white chocolate chips. Refrigerate dough at least 20 min.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Scoop dough onto baking sheets. Bake 8-10 min.
Boozy Chocolate Truffles
Wow factor? Check. Cheap price? Check.
These homemade candies cost under $3 to make three dozen and are sure to impress your Valentine.
Even better, you can have fun making them together.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.