Want to make sweets for your sweetheart? Try these Valentine’s Day dessert ideas.

Show your love for people in your life by making a "Spring Fling Cake" or a Tarte Tatin. The cake has a surprising, healthy ingredient and both boast plenty of fruit.
Feb. 2, 2022
Spring Fling Cake is a popular dessert from The Market in Denver’s Larimer Square, which sadly is no longer open. The cake is a perfect Valentine's Day dessert. Photo courtesy of Bill St. John.
Spring Fling Cake is a popular dessert from The Market in Denver’s Larimer Square, which sadly is no longer open. The cake is a perfect Valentine’s Day dessert. Photo courtesy of Bill St. John.

If you wish to serve something sweet to your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day, I’ve got two delicious recipes for you. One certainly looks the part, with its splayed red and brightly-colored fruit, but you can gussy up the other for February 14th with a red currant jelly glaze or top it with a dollop of crème fraîche that you’ve “pinked” with a drop of food coloring or cherry juice. But it’s certainly festive just on its own.

Tarte Tatin takes its name from the Hotel Tatin in the Loire Valley southwest of Paris—and from a mistake. It’s one of those foods, such as Worcestershire sauce, that wouldn’t exist had it not first been (in this instance, purely) a flop.

Legend has it that, back in the 1880s, while making standard crust-topped apple pie desserts, one of the Tatin sisters who ran the hotel dropped a pie in a rush, then quickly reassembled it with the remaining crust on the bottom and the apples on top.

Tarte Tatin, a sweet for the Sweet on this Valentine’s Day.
Tarte Tatin, a sweet for your sweetheart on this Valentine’s Day. Photo courtesy of Bill St. John.

For tarte Tatin, choose apples that do not break down under nearly an hour of significant heat: Braeburns, Jonagolds, or Granny Smiths work well.

Some tarte Tatins are very fancy (read: time-consuming, patience-testing) renditions of thinly-sliced apples like curlicues on top of a pie or short crust. The classic is easier: chunks of apples baked in a pan, with the crust on top, then flipped and inverted when done. For this purpose, puff pastry is even better and tastier than simple pie crust, although either works well. And it’s way OK to use store-bought and frozen crusts.

An early victim of the global pandemic was Larimer Square’s The Market which closed in April 2020. A longstanding favorite delectable there was its Spring Fling Cake and what a cake it was. Dana Crawford, The Market’s founder and first owner, remembers it as “Totally delicious,” she wrote in an email. “Thick, looking almost like angel food,” its fruits “colorful and generous.”

The Spring Fling begins as an egg, sugar and flour batter substantiated with shredded zucchini, and ends in flourishes of flung spring fruits such as strawberries. But use whatever fruits strike your fancy, “spring” always being somewhere on a globe easily accommodated to airplane holds, hence grocers.

The measurements and timing are for Denver’s elevation, 5,280 feet. Those living and baking higher or lower will require a consult with Chef Google. Also, you may peel the zucchini and shred them by hand on the large holes of box grater and not use the food processor as the original recipe suggests (2 medium zukes equal about 2 and 1/2 cups shredded).

Spring Fling Cake: A Valentine’s Day dessert with color

Spring Fling Cake from the sadly departed The Market in Denver’s Larimer Square
Spring Fling Cake from the sadly departed The Market in Denver’s Larimer Square. Photo courtesy of Bill St. John.

From The Market, Larimer Square, recipe as published in Rocky Mountain News, May 10, 2006, courtesy the Denver Public Library City and County of Denver. Serves 12-14

Ingredients

2 and 1/2 cups shredded zucchini

1 and 1/4 cups sugar

5 eggs

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sour cream

1/2 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (for frosting)

3 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

For frosting:

3/4 cup cream cheese

1/4 cup butter

2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream

Fruit for cake:

1 pint strawberries, cleaned, stemmed and sliced

4 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced

2 mangoes, peeled and sliced

1 pint blueberries

Apricot glaze, or apricot jelly thinned out with a bit of warm water, optional

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch cake pan.

To prepare the cake: Shred the zucchini in a food processor. In a large mixing bowl combine shredded zucchini, eggs, sugar, oil, sour cream and 1/2 tablespoon vanilla. When thoroughly mixed, combine all dry ingredients and add to bowl; mix well. Batter should be fairly wet and easy to pour.

Pour in the batter and bake for 50 to 70 minutes, testing with a toothpick in center. Cool finished cake on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove it from the pan and allow it to cool completely. (You can make the cake a day ahead and refrigerate.)

Spring Fling Cake from the sadly departed The Market in Denver’s Larimer Square
Spring Fling Cake from the sadly departed The Market in Denver’s Larimer Square. Photo courtesy of Bill St. John.

To prepare frosting, whip room-temperature cream cheese and butter until smooth. Gradually add the powdered sugar, mixing until well combined. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until stiff, and then fold it and the 1/2 teaspoon vanilla into the frosting. Do not overmix.

To assemble cake: Cut the cooled cake in half lengthwise, making two layers. (The Market cuts the cake into three layers, which you may do if desired.) Spread an even layer of frosting over the first layer, and then add a layer of the various fruit pieces (repeat if three layers).

Put on the top layer of cake and evenly frost. The sides of the cake are not frosted; use extra to fill in, as needed. Arrange the fruit in circles all over the top of cake, slightly overlapping fruit pieces.

To finish: Spread the apricot glaze over fruit on top of the cake with a pastry brush.

Tarte Tatin: A Valentine’s Day dessert from New York 

Notes Bill St. John, “This recipe comes by way of the executive pastry chef at Gotham Bar and Grill in New York City, Ron Paprocki, and a helpful reworking of his technique by Julia Moskin in The New York Times. I’ve tinkered a bit with their work, as well as tempered the recipe to our higher elevation.” Makes 1 tarte.

Ingredients

8 large firm-fleshed semi-tart apples (such as Braeburn, Jonathan, or Granny Smith)

7 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted, very soft

2/3 cup granulated sugar or light brown sugar

1 sheet all-butter puff pastry, about 8 ounces

Directions

Tarte Tatin is a one-pan dessert, started on the stovetop, finished baked in the oven.
Tarte Tatin is a one-pan dessert, started on the stovetop, finished baked in the oven. Photo courtesy of Bill St. John.

Prepare the apples at least one day in advance of cooking them (even better, 2-3 days). Slice off the bottom of each apple so that it has a flat base. Peel half the apples, then quarter all of them, cutting down through the poles. Trim seeds and hard matter from the center of each quarter.

Lay out the apple quarters on a plastic tray or a baking sheet covered in parchment paper or plastic wrap. Cover them loosely with paper toweling and put them in the refrigerator to dry out. They will brown slightly but pay that no mind. They will further brown in the cooking.

When ready to assemble the tarte, heat the oven to 370 degrees (340-350 if using convection). Use the butter to coat the bottom of a 10-inch heavy ovenproof pan or skillet, preferably nonstick (seasoned cast iron is ideal), slathering the soft butter all around the bottom so that it hides any metal. Evenly sprinkle the sugar atop the butter. Find a bowl or plate the diameter of the skillet and set it aside.

Take one of the apple quarters and make it round by trimming it at both ends. It will be a “button” at the center of the tarte; place it there. Now, arrange the remaining apple quarters, evenly dividing the arrangement between the peeled and unpeeled apples, each quarter standing on its flat side, in circles around the “button.” Place the quarters as close to each other as you can, like flower petals, so that they support each other upright.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry dough to about 1/8-inch thick. Place the reserved bowl or plate on top of the dough and, using the tip of a sharp knife, cut out a round. Gently lift the dough round and drape it over the apples, tucking it in around the edge.

Over medium heat, cook the tarte until golden-brown juice bubbles around the edge. (If the juices keep rising, spoon it out so that the bubbling juices are just at the edge of the dough.) Keep cooking, adjusting the heat is necessary, up to 10 minutes, until the juices begin to turn darker brown and smell like caramel.

Place the pan or skillet in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the pastry browns nicely. Let the tarte cool for 5 minutes only, then flip it carefully onto a round serving plate, dough side down, apples up, minding any hot caramel that might ooze or spill out. If any apples stick to the pan, they are easily removed and replaced into the tarte while it is warm.

Serve, cut into wedges, warm or at room temperature, topped with crème fraiche, ice cream, Greek yogurt, or very heavy cream.

Reach Bill St. John at billstjohn@gmail.com

About the author

For more than 40 years, Bill St. John’s specialties have been as varied as they are cultured. He writes and teaches about restaurants, wine, food & wine, the history of the cuisines of several countries (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the USA), about religion and its nexus with food, culture, history, or philosophy, and on books, travel, food writing, op-ed, and language.

Bill has lent (and lends) his subject matter expertise to such outlets as The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, 5280 Magazine, and for various entities such as food markets, wine shops, schools & hospitals, and, for its brief life, Microsoft’s sidewalk.com. In 2001 he was nominated for a James Beard Award in Journalism for his 12 years of writing for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Bill's experience also includes teaching at Regis University and the University of Chicago and in classrooms of his own devising; working as on-air talent with Denver's KCNC-TV, where he scripted and presented a travel & lifestyle program called "Wine at 45"; a one-week stint as a Trappist monk; and offering his shoulder as a headrest for Julia Child for 20 minutes.

Bill has also visited 54 countries, 42 of the United States, and all 10 Canadian provinces.

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