When Valentine’s Day rolls around, most people think candy, but I think cake. I would gladly trade any box of bons-bons for one truly delicious cake. And my new favorite spot is Los Angeles-based Cake Monkey, which specializes in hand-crafted, individual-sized, light-as-air layer cakes topped with creamy buttercreams and frostings as well as Snack Treats, more elegant forms of traditional snack cakes like Ho-Ho’s. (If you love Lil’ Debbies, you’ll swoon with one bite of a Lil’ Merri – an oatmeal sandwich cookie filled with maple vanilla buttercream.)
Lisa Olin and Elizabeth Belkind are the duo behind the bakery. Lisa, a former TV and film producer, comes up with her dream desserts while Elizabeth, a former restaurant pastry chef, executes them. Choose from 10 cakes plus seasonal and holiday offerings (although don’t be afraid to ask for customized flavors; they’re happy to create personalized cakes). This isn’t just any cake: devil’s food chocolate cake is turned on its head with dark chocolate frosting and handmade honeycomb on top, and the carrot cake is layered with caramel cream cheese frosting and topped with pistachios. If you really want to impress your sweetie, don’t miss the Valentine’s Day red velvet cake with fresh raspberry vanilla buttercream, the Must Love Chocolate Gift Box, or the Red Velvet Cake Sandwich filled with Raspberry Swirled Vanilla Frosting and coated in bittersweet chocolate.
Los Angeles locals can pick up a box of cakes at the bakery with 48 hours notice (local delivery is available, too). Otherwise, just hop online or call 877.640.CAKE (2253) and order up some treats for overnight delivery – they ship nationwide.
If you’re a passionate home baker and want to try your hand at a Valentine’s sweet, Elizabeth and Lisa were sweet enough to share a cookie recipe inspired by the flavors of rocky road. As Elizabeth says, she created it “because sometimes love is a rocky road!” See the chef's recipes.
'NUFF SAID COOKIES (Chocolate Crumble Cookies with Marshmallow, Dark Caramel, Roasted Pecans, and Sea Salt)
For the chocolate crumble:
- 3 3/4 cups pastry flour
- 3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon sea salt plus additional for garnish
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/2 cups butter
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
For the topping:
- 3 cups roughly chopped chocolate with high cocoa content (70 to 75%)
- 3 cups roasted pecan halves (roasted for 6 minutes at 350 degrees F), roughly chopped
- Dark caramel (recipe below; one 12-ounce jar store-bought caramel can be substituted)
- Marshmallow strips (1/2 inch wide and 2 inches long; recipe below; store-bought marshmallows can be substituted; see below)
For the crumble: In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoons sea salt and the sugar. Cut the butter into small cubes. With your hands, incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients by rubbing the butter into the flour mixture with the tips of your fingers. Do this until you have a mixture that resembles a coarse meal. Do not form a dough with your hands. The mixture should look dry and sandy. Slowly drizzle the milk into the dry ingredients, pouring even amounts of it throughout the bowl. Gently, with the tips of your fingers, toss the wet and dry ingredients together. This will cause larger clumps of dough to form in the mixture. Chill the chocolate crumble in the bowl for 2 hours before using.
To assemble the cookies:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place a sheet of parchment over a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan.
Using a 21/4” ring mold or cookie cutter, press about 2 tablespoons of chocolate crumble into a round circle using the tips of your fingers. Lift the mold off the tray and repeat this process, leaving about 3 inches of space between each cookie. If using store-bought marshmallows, you will use 1 1/2 large marshmallows or 8 miniature marshmallows for each cookie.
Fold one strip of marshmallow into itself to form a small ring and place over the center of a cookie. Repeat until all cookies have a ring of marshmallow on them. Place a generous amount of chocolate pieces and pecan pieces over each cookie. Then, spoon about a teaspoon of dark caramel over each mound of chocolate and nuts. Finally, cover each mound with additional chocolate crumble to form the cookies. The top layer of crumble is what will give the cookies structure, holding the marshmallow, chocolate, caramel and nuts together as the cookies bake.
Bake for 6 minutes, then rotate the cookie sheet 180 degrees and bake for another 5 minutes. Pull the cookies from the oven and allow to cool. All ovens differ slightly in baking time. The marshmallow should begin to brown by the time you pull the cookies out of the oven. The chocolate crumble will crisp once cooled.
If the cookies need a little coaxing to get them to be somewhat round at this point, use a small spatula or butter knife to press them into shape.
Allow the cookies to cool for about 15 minutes. Then, using a spoon, drizzle another 2 teaspoons of caramel over each cookie and sprinkle with a small pinch of sea salt. Lift the cookies from the tray using a flexible spatula. Yield: about 1 dozen large cookies
- 12 ounces sugar
- 3 ounces light corn syrup
- 1 Tahitian vanilla bean, split and scraped
- 8 ounces unsalted butter
- 12 ounces heavy cream
Before beginning: fill a large bowl with ice and a bit of water. Place a slightly smaller metal bowl over the ice.
In a small, heavy bottomed stock pot, combine the sugar, vanilla and syrup. Add a bit of water if necessary to get a wet sand consistency. Clean the sides of the pot thoroughly with a pastry brush and water to avoid crystallization.
Cook the sugar over high heat until it turns a rich, rusty amber color. Remove the pot from the heat and carefully add the butter and cream. Return the pot to the stove. Over medium high speed, very slowly stir the caramel with a long whisk to incorporate the butter as it melts.
Allow the caramel to darken further, returning it to that rich, rusty amber color once again.
Immediately pour the caramel out into the prepared bowl. Stir gently with a spatula as it cools.
Once the caramel has cooled completely, store in an airtight container. Caramel can be kept in the refrigerator for up to one month if tightly covered. Yield: about 4 cups of caramel
- 2 egg whites (2 ounces)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 3 sheets gelatin
- 1 cup cold water
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar mixed with 1/2 cup corn starch (set aside to use only after the marshmallow has dried. See below for details).
In a medium bowl, submerge each sheet of gelatin in the water separately. Allow the gelatin to sit in the bowl until it softens.
Combine the sugar and the corn syrup in a small heavy bottomed sauce pan.
Mix the two together, using a clean spatula, or your clean hands.
Remember to completely clean the sides of the pan of any stray sugar granules to prevent your sugar syrup from crystallizing.
Place the saucepan over medium high heat and bring the sugar syrup to a rolling boil.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites on high speed just until they form a uniform, glossy mass with shiny, small bubbles. Do not overmix. If you notice the whipped egg whites look grainy and dull, toss them out and start over.
Once the egg whites have reached proper consistency and the sugar syrup has reached a rolling boil, remove the gelatin sheets from the water. Squeeze all excess water from the gelatin and add them to the sugar syrup. Gently swirl the syrup in the sauce pan to incorporate the gelatin. This should take a few seconds.
Immediately, begin pouring the syrup into the bowl of the mixer while still beating on high speed. Make sure to pour down the side of the bowl and not straight into the whisk attachment. Add all of the syrup.
Continue mixing the marshmallow on high for one minute. Then turn the mixer speed to medium and allow the marshmallow to cool briefly while you prepare your tray.
Place a half sheet sized silicone matt over a half sheet tray or jelly roll pan with half inch sides.
Pour the marshmallow into the pan. Use an offset spatula to smooth it out evenly.
Set the marshmallow in a cool place to dry. Allow it to set for at least 4 hours or overnight before using. Do not cover the marshmallow as it sets.
Sift half the sugar and corn starch mixture over the top of the marshmallow. Leave the other half in a bowl. Using your hands, smooth the powder over the top of the marshmallow. Then turn the tray over on to a sheet of parchment to get rid of the excess powder. Reserve the excess powder for later use by storing in a tightly sealed container. It keeps indefinitely.
Using a small spatula or a butter knife that has been dipped in the powder mixture to keep it dry, cut the marshmallow into long strips about 1/2 inch wide and 2 inches long. Gently toss each strip in the bowl of powder, then set aside on a plate or tray until ready to use.