For Valentine’s Day, a creamy dessert straight from the heart

Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST - Coeur a la Cremesicle, a creamy cheese offset by a piquant citrus curd.

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Making dessert for Valentine’s Day is challenging at best. We are bombarded with lip-smacking photographs of miniature tarts, sweet cakes, hand-formed truffles. Everything is so precious and terrifying. There’s the chocolate — will it need tempering? There are raspberries and strawberries — out of season, yet frequent flavors of mid-February desserts. And then there is the time. Valentine’s Day may fall on any day of the week, yet the hope for sweet goodness will not wait for a conveniently empty Saturday, when tinkering in the kitchen is possible.

Voila, coeur a la creme. A heart of cream. This incredibly easy dessert (also delicious for breakfast or a midday snack) has all the earmarks of a perfect valentine. It is heart-shaped and mixes with fruits and chocolates perfectly. Or in this case, with in-season oranges. A small effort, even days in advance, produces a creamy sweet cheese that is impossibly romantic.

VIENNA, VA, JANUARY 9, 2013: Winter salad of shaved cucumber, radish and endive with lemon vinaigrette. Dishware courtesy of Crate & Barrel. (Photo by ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post)

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Two serendipitous events spurred this recipe. First, I found the perforated heart-shaped mold stashed in the back of a frightening drawer of kitchen “stuff.” (The drawer my ever-vigilant spouse wants to clear out. Ahem.) I’m sure my mother purchased this porcelain beauty with Julia Child’s encouragement, as I recall coeur a la creme dinner party desserts in the mid-’60s. If your mother had a similar love affair with Julia, there may be one, or a set of smaller molds, lurking in a cabinet. (Or, as in the case of a friend of mine, in the guest bathroom, serving as a soap dish. The horror.)

If your kitchen collection does not include a heart-shaped mold, a simple sieve will create a perfect dome of cheese. Either presentation is equally appealing, particularly when festooned with sprightly curd and garnished with toasted almonds.

But really, it was the curd that got me going. I’ve been on a curd kick. I’ve juiced every manner of citrus to find the perfect recipe for citrus curd, finally landing on a happy balance of egg, sugar, zest and juice to produce a creamy, stable, tangy spread for scones, an add-in for yogurt, or a topping for angel food cake. Pink grapefruit was leading as my personal favorite until blood oranges came into the market. There was something so familiar and friendly about the scent of the deeply colored flesh and the charming, bright flavor. Blood oranges are sweeter than navels, not quite as sweet as a satsuma, and make a beautiful, pale apricot-colored curd.

Because this dessert is so very simple and requires only a few ingredients, every element must be the very best. Use excellent cream; the type bottled in glass is my choice because it is just that much more delicious. Make your own mascarpone; you’ll never go back to store-bought. It takes only half a lemon, a few minutes at the stove and an overnight in the refrigerator. Find the freshest eggs, an excellent sweet cream butter and glorious citrus, ripe and ready.

When the curd is served alongside the sweet cheese, the dessert reminds me of a Good Humor Creamsicle and possibly that favorite of 1970s mall dwellers, the Orange Julius. If your sacred childhood memories include either of those items, with coeur a la cremesicle, you are sure to fall in love all over again.

Barrow is a Washington cooking instructor and food writer. She blogs at www.mrswheelbarrow.com.

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