I think there is nothing more thoughtful than ap-preciating those around us by baking something delicious for them!

After all, when we offer a sweet treat, people are more likely to reciprocate with sweetness. Moreover, nowadays Valentine’s, being celebrated today, is not just a lover’s holiday and we seem to be taking our cue from the US, where it is celebrated by everyone: children send Valentine cards to their parents and teachers, friends treat each other to gifts and even co-workers celebrate Valentine’s together and express gratitude for those around them.

There is something more romantic and touching about baking a cake for Valentine’s than, for example, individual muffins. The thought of sharing a cake brings everyone together. When it is freshly baked, even before they see it, guests are greeted by the aroma that is only unique to baking.

There is something more romantic and touching about baking a cake for Valentine’s than, for example, individual muffins

There is a sense of anticipation, as everyone gathers round for tea or a celebratory toast, first admiring the cake perched proudly on a decorative stand and – although somehow it always feels like a shame to cut it, the process of presenting the first slice always creates a moment of suspense as everyone awaits their share. The baker is anxious to see reaction and approval.

Then, there are the crumbs it creates, refusing to disappear forever. The last slice is politely declined and it finds its way to the fridge, memories of the event wrapped in cling film and allowed to become inedible, as we cling on to those good memories that remind us of our loved ones each time we open the fridge door.

And when we do finish off that last slice, it is often with great reluctance, as it seems like the end of the special moment captured in a cake.

For my Valentine’s theme, I usually choose something quite decadent with an appearance and aroma that make an impact, a show stopper to get some sort of reaction.

However, my Valentine’s Bake this year is a simple idea which I love. I have already baked Cake Nua, several times using different variations, and I am told it is the trendiest cake in Italy at the moment. I love the idea of baking a cake with the filling already inside and I hope that my recipes will bring back a lot of good feelings and nostaligia for you in the years to come.

Cannoli Cake Nua

250g self-raising flour
A pinch of salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate
100g sugar or its equivalent in Stevia
170g butter
The seeds of a vanilla pod
2 tbsp yoghurt
1 tbsp organic apple vinegar

For the filling:
250g ricotta
50g glace cherries
50g candied peel
1 tbsp cornflour
1 egg
50g chocolate

This cake contains pockets of cannoli filling; the filling is piped into the cake batter and the batter encases the filling during baking. On TV, due to time constraints, we sliced the cake during the show as it came out of the oven, and therefore you cannot see the cake at its best. Allow it to cool completely before slicing it and you will have neat pockets of cannoli filling embedded in your Madeira type cake

Preheat the oven to 160ºC and prepare a 23cm or similar cake dish with baking spray. Cream the butter and sugar using an electric mixer until the mixture is creamy and white. Mix the eggs, yoghurt, organic apple vinegar and add them to the butter and sugar mixture, little by little, until they are well blended. Use low speed. In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Use a metal spoon to fold in the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Pour the batter into the cake dish. For the filling, mix all the ingredients together and place in a piping bag with no nozzle. Pipe in the filling into the cake, leaving some space between each pocket of cannoli filling. Bake in a preheated oven at 160ºC for 40 minutes. Allow to cool completely before cutting up.

Strawberry Cake Nua

250g self-raising flour
150g mascarpone or butter
150g sugar, or the equivalent in Stevia
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 eggs
The seeds of a vanilla pod
1/4 tsp lemon zest
100g coconut
For the filling:
250g ricotta
vanilla
250g strawberries
1 egg
100g coconut

This strawberry cake will surely seal the deal this Valentine’s. Pockets of ricotta with a coconut and strawberry filling are baked within the cake.

Preheat the oven to 160ºC and prepare a 23cm or similar cake dish with baking spray. Cream the mascarpone or butter with the sugar, using an electric mixer until the mixture is creamy and white. Add the vanilla and lemon zest. Mix the eggs and add them to the butter and sugar mixture, little by little, until they are well blended. Use low speed. In a large bowl, sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda. Use a metal spoon to fold into the flour mixture.

Finally, add in the coconut. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to achieve dropping consistency if required. Pour the batter into the cake dish.

For the filling: Chop the strawberries but do not over-process. Mix all the ingredients together and place in a piping bag with no nozzle. Pipe blobs of the filling into the cake. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 160ºC for 40 minutes. Allow to cool completely before cutting up and decorating with more strawberries.

Chocolate Courgette Cake Nua

A healthier option to the previous two cakes

250g self-raising flour
2 tbsp chocolate powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp oats
1 tsp cornflour
1/2 vanilla pod
1 tbsp organic apple vinegar
4 eggs
2 tbsp plain yoghurt
200g zucchini, grated
250g golden raisins soaked overnight and blended to a purée

For the middle ricotta layer you will need:
250g sheep’s ricotta
2 eggs
1tbsp cornflour
A pinch of cinnamon
1/2 vanilla pod
Mix together and keep aside

Sift the flour into a large bowl and add all the dry ingredients and mix. Add the grated zucchini and mix gently until they are covered with flour. Place all the liquids in another bowl and blend using a hand-held electric blender. Fold the liquids into the dry ingredients, very gently and do not overmix. Grease a 23cm cake tin with baking spray. Pour half the chocolate cake batter and smooth the top. Add the ricotta mix. On top of that add the rest of the chocolate batter. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 160ºC for 35 minutes. Allow to cool before serving.

Filled Strawberries

500g fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
100g Mascarpone
50g chocolate tahini
1 tbsp maple syrup
A few drops vanilla extract
100g pecans, chopped

And, if you are not in a mood for baking, simply stuff some fresh strawberries for your loved ones.

Cut a small piece off the tip of the strawberries so that they will stand on a plate. Save the tip.Use a paring knife to hollow out a small hole in the centre of each strawberry. Beat the mascarpone. Add the chocolate tahini, maple syrup and vanilla. Leave to rest in the fridge for an hour. Fill a disposable piping bag with the mixture. Snip only a small part of the tip off. Fill up each strawberry with the mix. Garnish with chopped pecans. Refrigerate before serving.

Watch Lea Hogg cook live on TVM2 every day and follow her blog on www.goodfoodeveryday.wordpress.com. More of Lea’s recipes can be found on www.timesofmalta.com.

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