For the first Valentine’s Day that I spent with the man who would eventually become my husband and baby daddy, I spent an embarrassing amount of time scouring the internet for the perfect Valentine recipes. Nearly overwhelmed by the cutesy options (turns out you can make just about any food pink and heart-shaped), I settled on a laborious menu that stained my hands red for a few days.
Most memorably, I made a “hidden heart” pound cake. It looks impressive but is actually quite simple, especially if you have a helper. I struggled through it solo that first Valentine’s, using my elbows in lieu of a spare set of hands. Would he have married me if I hadn’t pulled off a heart inside a cake? We’ll never know.
The recipe below is for a vanilla heart inside a chocolate loaf, but the combinations are endless — pink strawberry cake hearts inside a vanilla loaf, red velvet hearts inside a vanilla loaf with pink frosting, etc. The key is to use a pound cake or other dense cake recipe so that the two flavors/colors stay separate when baked. (If using a gluten-free cake recipe, make sure to use the “for a denser cake” version of the mix.)
- Favorite vanilla or butter pound cake recipe or mix (1 loaf)
- Favorite chocolate pound cake recipe or mix (1 loaf)
- Frosting of choice (optional)
- Loaf pan
- Small heart-shaped cookie cutter that fits fully inside loaf pan. You want to be able to set the cookie cutter inside the loaf pan with space left over on each side of the cookie cutter.
- Bake the vanilla pound cake according to recipe or mix instructions. Remove from pan and let cool completely.
- Place vanilla pound cake loaf on a cutting board. Using the thickness/depth of the cookie cutter as a guide, slice the cake into slices the same thickness as the cookie cutter using a serrated knife. If you have any trouble making clean slices, refrigerate the cake before slicing.
- Use the cookie cutter to cut hearts out of each slice of cake and discard edges.
- Prepare the chocolate pound cake batter according to recipe or mix instructions.
- Spread a half cup of batter along the bottom of a clean, greased loaf pan.
- With a helper, stack the heart-shaped vanilla cake cut-outs together, side by side, and place as a unit down into the loaf pan on top of the layer of chocolate batter. The cut-outs should be pointed down. It will take two hands to hold the stack together on the two ends inside the loaf pan.
- While one person holds the cut-outs stable, slightly pressing them together so that there are no cracks between slices, the other person spoons chocolate batter on either side of the hearts, alternating sides. A spoonful of chocolate on one side of the hearts, then a spoonful on the other side. This will help stabilize the hearts. Pour the remainder of chocolate batter on top of the hearts. (Note: There are a handful of blogs featuring the technique if you want to see photos of the process. Just Google “hidden heart” pound cake.)
- Bake the loaf at the temperature that the chocolate cake recipe/mix calls for, but note that baking time will be shorter. Check the cake frequently until the chocolate batter is done. You’ll have to use your best baking judgement on the cooking time.
- Let cool 20 minutes or so before removing from loaf pan, then cool completely on a rack. Slice the cake to reveal the pretty hidden hearts.
- Frost if desired.
Emily Yepes is an advertising representative at Community Journals and a fitness instructor. She is “just” a home cook whose favorite hobby is to test and perfect recipes for her annual family cookbook.