If there’s one thing about February that always delights me- it’s that camellias are in bloom, chocolate is on the menu or in a heart shaped box and love seems to be in the crisp cool air. This year, the red camellias are showing out, a bumper crop of ruffled blooms, and this tickles me because they’ve taken their own sweet time about getting to a point of consistent blooms- the shrub was chosen for it’s double ruffled petite blossoms- in honor of my mother in law- who I loved with all of my heart- who was petite, beautiful and …well, it just seemed fitting to plant a camellia to honor her life with our state flower, the Camellia.
Valentine’s seems to be an oddly conflicting holiday. Oh yes, it’s supposed to be all about flowers and chocolate and romance, yet it’s often a disappointing holiday, even with all of the gift ideas, hearts and beautiful sentimental cards- disappointment often stands in the shadows. Still. Love itself comes in many forms- romantic love, yet also love of family, love of friends and yes, love of place. Other than my own home- there is possibly no place on this earth that I love more than a beautiful historic hotel in Point Clear, Alabama which combines all kinds of love… camellias bloom profusely and a certain form of chocolate stole my heart many years ago.
The Grand Hotel is her name. Close by is Mobile Bay and a quaint town called Fairhope; just down the road is a beautiful small town named Magnolia Springs…now if fair hope, beautiful sunsets, camellias, magnolias and a grand old lady doesn’t give you a clear point of view… I don’t know what possibly could. The pace is slower, Afternoon Tea is served every afternoon, the grounds are filled with huge live oaks that have long gray beards of Spanish moss- under their spreading branches- camellias, azaleas and all manner of distinctly southern plants bloom in profusion around a mossy lagoon. I have visited there during every season of the year, yet February is the time of year I’ve probably enjoyed most- in the lower coastal south- it might get chilly but never so cold as to discourage the camellias or the guests. I’ve been there in formal dress several times in February- it seemed to me, the most glamorous place anyone could be!
Yet, my best memories of the Grand, are of the ones when my children were young and truly learned the exquisite art of dining and dressing for the occasion at a champagne brunch with live music playing softly- tunes like ‘Stars fell on Alabama’ or the more lively- ‘The Alabama Jubilee’. And if there is ever a place on earth for ‘jubilee’ it’s on the shores of Mobile Bay where that amazing phenomenon happens when it’s least expected!
The first time I ever tasted- Flourless Chocolate Cake was at the Grand Hotel, and I recall thinking- ‘What an elegant dessert! Surely, someone could have come up with a more decadent name!’ Somehow, over the years- I was given their recipe for this decadent chocolate dessert. For years, I’ve thought I couldn’t recreate it- and the truth is? Without the backdrop of the Grand Hotel it would no doubt ever taste the same. So! I took the recipe and tweaked it to make the recipe my own – and while our camellia’s are blooming their fool heads off? I decide to try my hand at making it and decorating it with those festive red blooms! So, it was only appropriate to name it- Camellia’s Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake. It’s way easier to make it than I’d ever have thought- and decorated with red camellias grown right here at the cottage- it was downright gorgeous and…well, it took me back… Here’s how you make it-
Camellia’s Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake…
A dense rich dark chocolate cake, made with baking chocolate and cocoa, a mere 1 cup of sugar, no flour at all, and- to deepen the flavor- espresso powder is added. A small slice garnished with whipped cream is an elegant dessert.
- 2 Sticks Butter (Cut in pieces- plus more for pan)
- 1/4 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder (More for dusting pan)
- 2 Teaspoons Instant espresso or coffee granules
- 1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
- 8 Ounces Unsweetened Baking Chocolate (Chopped )
- 5 Large Eggs
- 1 Cup Granular Sugar
- 1/4 Cup Powdered Sugar (As needed for dusting)
- Whipped Cream
- Fresh Mint Leaf, Berries or flowers (For garnish)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 9 inch springform pan (or a 9 inch cake pan lined completely with parchment paper) Butter pan and dust with cocoa powder. Set aside. In a heavy medium saucepan, melt butter on medium low heat, add baking chocolate pieces and carefully stir until melted. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together large eggs, add granulated sugar, espresso powder and cocoa powder until fully combined. Carefully incorporate melted chocolate and butter until th batter is blended well. Pour batter into prepared pan lightly smooth batter. Bake at 350 degrees on center rack until puffed and set, approximately 35 minutes. Allow cake to cool for a full hour in the pan. If needed run a knife around sides of pan (if a baking pan is used, lift out of pan and fold down parchment ) unmold cake on serving platter. (Cake may be wrapped well after cooling and stored for up to 2 days before serving.) When ready to serve, dust with powdered sugar, add whipped cream and garnish as desired. This is a very rich dense cake, small slices are preferable. 12-16 slices.
And while we’re talking Camellias, Chocolate and Love… here’s a few ideas to make Valentine’s special:
- Give or plant a camellia shrub, a special rose even a gardenia to honor a loved one or to beautify your landscape.
- Bake a special dessert, cookies or a cake to give to friends and loved ones.
- And, since the Grand Hotel has a spa that has been named one of the best in the country- why not make Spa Water for yourself and loved ones- decorated with rose petals?
- Or give a spa certificate to a loved one, a friend or even treat yourself to a manicure or pedicure? Maybe find some seasonal flowers (like Camellias) and give a bouquet?
I know. I know. We tend to think of Valentine’s Day as just for couples in love…. I’ve come to believe- love, the sweetest kind is love that’s spread around a bit… so my best idea this year- Determine in the next few days to find folks who could use a hug or a bit of extra love and care- make a card, send a goofy text, write a note, give a call or just visit for a while? Sometimes the best thing of all is to say-
. Love y’all, Camellia
*All photographs are obviously mine. *The photograph of that gorgeous sunset was taken by me at the Marriott Grand Hotel several years ago- I’ve been reassured the sunsets are still glorious! *Choose flowers to decorate food or water that are organically grown or that you know the source. *The dark chocolate flourless cake can be made ahead two days before it’s served- so you’ll have plenty of time to make it this week!
Health and Beauty tip: Tea Tree Oil is an amazing oil for skin treatments and comes from the same family as the Camellia. And did you know? Dark Chocolate has been known to soothe a cough more readily than hot tea or chicken soup? Of course, that a bite of dark chocolate that slowly melts in your mouth! And, if the weather permits at all- the best health advice I can give you this week- is to try to spend 15-20 minutes outside everyday- it lifts the spirits and fresh air is a total body treatment!