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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.)

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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.

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[Update:] Now you can buy Sprüngli chocolates online to be shipped worldwide! See the Shop page for details.

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Brioche bread is so delicate, light and buttery that is just one tiny step removed from being a pastry. Plain brioche bread is delicious on its own, toasted or with loads of jam. But brioche dough also makes an ideal casing for all kinds of fillings both savory and sweet. It's my favorite dough for making anything en croute, as well as for sweet filled breads that are so nice for a brunch party.

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In most countries with a sizable Christian population, Easter candies are abundant at this time of year. Switzerland is no exception. Here, while Easter eggs are quite plentiful, the candy of choice seems to be the chocolate Easter bunny (Osterhase). Window upon window is filled with rows of Easter bunnies, from the cute to the comical to the frankly grotesque.

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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:

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Brownie

For Oscar night, I made these dense brownies. They disappeared very fast. The "double chocolate" part comes from the fact that there are two whole 100 gram (or 3 1/2 oz.) dark chocolate bars in it.

This is an extremely easy recipe. I don't even bother to chop the pecans with a knife; I just bash them in the bag. Same with the chocolate. For this reason, this would be a really fun thing for kids to make I think.

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maier

People in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states of the U.S. are now experiencing an assault of cicadas, that only occurs once every 17 years or so. No such insect attack here in Switzerland fortunately, but one sort of "bug" we see a lot of around this time are chocolate Maierhäfer, or May (June) bugs. They come in all sizes, from tiny foil-wrapped ones to monster bugs up to around 30cm long with bristling legs, which frankly look way too scary to eat to me.

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hot_masala_choco

Being a chocoholic and living in Switzerland can be a dangerous thing. Just going to the supermarket, one is confronted with row upon row of high quality chocolate, the type that you'd have to pay a premium for in the U.S. Aside from perhaps the cheapest brands, most Swiss chocolate bars in the US $1-2 range are delicious.

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