As I wrote about last year, Valentine’s Day in Japan is fraught with social stress. Somehow, the chocolate manufacturers have managed to convince the whole society that a girl or woman can’t just give chocolates to the ones they love. (And it’s only the women who give chocolates in Japan on the 14th, not men, unlike other countries.) She must also give giri choco, or ‘obligation chocolates’, to people she ‘owes’; bosses, teachers, and fathers-in-law.
Now you can see this kind of social giving in miniature! Re-ment, the maker of amazingly detailed diecast miniatures which I’ve also written about before, has this set of two types of chocolates: Honmei or giri?! (Your real target, or obligation?!) The caption says this:
Happy Valentine’s Day! February the 14th may mean flowers, a romantic dinner, or promises you don’t intend to keep for other people, but to me it will always the Day Of Chocolate.
Valentine’s Day is a very odd and overly commercialized day in Japan, where the giving and receiving of chocolate doesn’t have that much to do with romance. Females are made to feel obligated to hand out chocolates to people they don’t care about, such as teachers and bosses, while males anxiously wait to see if they get ‘enough’ chocolates to satisfy their egos. There are whole lines of inexpensive chocolate products suitable for giving, called giri choco (obligation chocolate). Unlike in the Western world, it’s not a day for men to give something to their female love interests. (March 14th, called “White Day”, has been sort of artificially designated as the males-give-back-to-females day.)
In the movie Chocolat, Juliette Binoche plays a somewhat mysterious woman who opens a chocolate shop in a small French village. She uses ancient Aztec spices in her chocolate confectioneries, which soon prove to have almost magical, often aphrodesiac, properties. While Chocolat is not in my top 5, or even 10, favorite food-theme movies (see here for that list), the idea of spiced chocolates has intrigued me ever since I saw it. One of my favorite chocolate bars is the Masala one made by Dolfin.
Making a spicy chocolate confection is a bit of a tricky affair though. You don’t want the spices to overwhelm the chocolate - it should just form a sort of interesting background, yet provide a bit of a surprising bite and a warm, ‘what is that?’ quality.
These cupcakes have a rich but not too sweet bisquit (cake) base, with the warmth of curry powder and the bite of coarsely ground pepper. They are moistened with a teaspoon per cupcake of mocca liqueur, which increases its intensity and pushes it into the realm of an adult indulgence. The chocolate ganache has a pinch of cayenne pepper in it. The marriage is quite successful (or so the Tasters emphatically agreed). I’m not sure if they work at aphrodesiacs, but if your sweetheart is a chocoholic, you never know… They make a terrific Valentine’s Day dessert or treat in any case.
Will you be staying in or going out for dinner tonight? If you are staying in, the best Valentine's Day present may be a meal cooked by the partner in your relationship that doesn't normally do the cooking.
Here are some easy to prepare yet impressing looking - and of course, delicious - dishes from the archives of Just Hungry: