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Creamy almond filling inside these chocolate crepes creates a delightful dessert that's just right for Valentine's Day. Photo by Sue Doeden

A dessert that's filled with love power

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I've been eating thin, lacy pancakes the size of a dinner plate since I was a toddler. Although some would call them French crepes, in our house, they were Hungarian palacsinta.

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On palacsinta days, the kitchen would be perfumed with the fragrance of vanilla and sugar. It was a familiar smell that would be a call to the kitchen, usually for breakfast, but sometimes for lunch or supper.

My mom and my grandma knew how to expertly pour a ribbon of batter into a thin layer in a large skillet and once each thin pancake was speckled with brown freckles, it would be transferred to another large, covered pan at the back of the stove. When all the batter had disappeared, the big pan of stacked palacsinta was placed in the center of the table, surrounded by hungry palacsinta lovers, waiting like hungry cookie monsters, ready to stuff themselves.

Not often, but every once in a while, there would be some palacsinta remaining in the pan after the meal. That was always a reason for me to get excited, because I knew what was ahead. My mom rolled up the leftover palacsinta with a filling of cottage cheese, sugar, eggs and vanilla. The soft rollups looked like long, over-stuffed pillows snuggled up against each other, filling a glass casserole dish. Thick sour cream would get slathered over the rollups and then a shower of sugar would cover the very top. After a short bake time in the oven, the palacsinta casserole would be served. The hot filling oozed from the end of the rollups and each sweet bite would melt in my mouth.

I've fashioned a dessert after the Hungarian-style casserole I grew up with. It's a dessert so decadently powerful, it might make Cupid's arrow unnecessary this year. Petite-sized chocolate crepes are rolled with a filling made of slightly sweet ricotta cheese, almond paste and almond filling. The addition of an egg demands some time in the oven and binds the creamy filling together. The soft, steaming chocolate tubes filled with loads of creamy almond can be tucked between warm dark chocolate sauce and chilled raspberry sauce. Give the concoction a lashing of sweet whipped cream. Serve it, then sit back and watch the magic happen.

Make extra chocolate crepes and freeze them. You'll have the start of a decadent dessert that can be ready to eat in minutes. Fill the delicate rounds of cocoa-laced crepes with ice cream and drizzle with your favorite sauce. A filling of fresh fruit makes a light and flavorful treat.

You can tell Cupid you won't need his help this year. You'll be serving a dessert filled with love power.

Chocolate Crepes with Almond Cream, Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Sauce

Chocolate Crepes

3 large eggs

2/3 cup half and half

2/3 cup water

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

1 cup Wondra flour

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tablespoons sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

Place all ingredients in blender in the order they are listed and process until smooth. Pour batter into a 4-cup glass measure. Set aside and let mixture sit for 20 minutes.

Lightly butter a 6-inch non-stick skillet. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat. The skillet will be ready when a drop of water sizzles upon contact. Pour about 3 tablespoons of batter into the hot skillet. Swirl the skillet with a twist of the wrist so that batter forms a thin even layer over the bottom of the pan. Cook crepe on one side until edges brown lightly. Flip the crepe and cook for another 25 to 30 seconds. Repeat until all the batter is used. Stack on a plate with a piece of plastic wrap between each crepe. Once cool, the crepes can be sealed in a plastic zip-top bag and refrigerated for a couple of days or stored in freezer for two months. Makes 16 to 18 (6-inch) crepes.

Almond Cream Filling

1 (8-ounce) can almond paste

1 large egg

1 (12.5-ounce) can almond cake and pastry filling

1 (15-ounce) container full-fat ricotta cheese

Crumble almond paste into a mixing bowl. Add egg and beat on low speed of an electric mixer to blend. Add almond filling and ricotta cheese. Blend well. Enough filling for 8 to 10 (6-inch) chocolate crepes.

Raspberry Sauce

3 (10- to 12-ounce) bags frozen unsweetened raspberries, thawed and drained

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

juice of 1/2 lemon

In saucepan, combine all ingredients except lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then boil gently, stirring, for about 7 minutes. Reduce heat, stir in lemon juice. Serve warm or chilled.

Dark Chocolate Sauce

5 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup hot brewed strong coffee or espresso

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Place all chocolate and butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir until the mixture is melted and smooth. Dissolve sugar in hot coffee. Stir coffee mixture into melted chocolate. Add vanilla. Stir sauce until smooth. Sauce can be cooled and stored in a jar in the refrigerator. Heat before serving.

Sweetened Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a chilled deep bowl, combine all ingredients. Whip until soft peaks form.

To assemble dessert: For each serving, mound about 1/4 cup almond filling along the center of a crepe. Loosely roll up the crepe.

Arrange the filled and rolled crepes in a lightly buttered baking dish. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes, until heated through.

Place one hot crepe on each dessert plate. Spoon raspberry and chocolate sauces around the crepe. Top with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.

Tips from the cook

--Wondra flour is a finely milled, quick-mixing flour, often used in gravy and sauces. It creates delicate crepes with no sign of little lumps of flour. Find it in a small cardboard canister near the all-purpose flour in most grocery stores.

--Sometimes almond paste is confused with marzipan. Both are made with ground almonds, but typically, almond paste is made with less sugar and has a consistency similar to playdough. It is available in most grocery stores in 8-ounce cans.

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