MONTREAL- Nothing says Valentine's Day like chocolate.

North Americans spend more than a billion dollars every February on chocolate.


Long before the advent of the heart-shaped box, chocolate has been associated with love and lust. The Mayans and other Mesoamericans were extracting the juice from the fruit of the cacao tree more than a thousand years ago. They would roast the beans, pound them and mix the paste with hot water to form a foamy liquid, adding vanilla and honey to sweeten it.

Hot coca was a part of marriage ceremonies. It was considered a love potion.

The Aztec emperor Montezuma drank it every day to increase his libido. He was known to drink goblets full before retiring to his harem for the night.

When the Spanish arrived they fell for the drink that Montezuma said would "provoke lustful desires." Christopher Columbus brought it back for Queen Isabella of Spain and before long chocolate had spread all over Europe, mostly among the rich and important.

In the 1860s chocolate became the universal gift of Valentine's Day. That's when the Cadbury Co. began packaging chocolate for the masses. In 1861 Richard Cadbury created the first-ever heart-shaped chocolate box for Valentine's Day.

The rest, as they say, is history.

As it turns out, Montezuma was right. Modern science has proven that certain chemicals in chocolate are linked to feelings of excitement and pleasure.

Eating chocolate is also known to improve mood by boosting the brain chemical serotonin.

And dark chocolate has also been shown to prevent heart disease and may help prevent cancer.

Heart shaped boxes filled with cream and ganache and liquor-filled chocolate are popping all over the place. But they are not the only way to share chocolate with your Valentine.

Here are three recipes to try on Valentine's Day for your special someone:

Chocolate torte

Here's a simple melt-in-your-mouth flourless chocolate torte. As a bonus, it is gluten-free. Make sure to leave yourself enough time to let the torte chill in the fridge before serving.

This recipe comes from Anna Olson's new book Back to Baking (Whitecap, 2011)

Flourless Chocolate Torte

Serves 10 to 12

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

¾ cup unsalted butter, cut in pieces

3 egg whites

2 tablespoons plus ¼ cup sugar

5 egg yolks

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300F. Grease a 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper, then grease and dust the entire pan with sugar, tapping out any excess.

Melt chocolate and butter in double boiler or in a metal or glass bowl placed over a pot of barely simmering water, stirring constantly. Once the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and let the mixture cool slightly.

Whip the egg whites with 2 tablespoons of the sugar until the whites hold a soft peak (they will curl when the beaters are lifted.)

Set aside.

In another bowl, whip the egg yolks with the remaining ¼ cup sugar, salt and vanilla, until the mixture doubles in volume, about 4 minutes. Fold the melted chocolate mixture into the whipped yolks then fold the whites into the mixture in two additions. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the torte for 35 minutes, until it barely jiggles when moved. As soon as you remove the cake from the oven it will begin to fall. Don't worry, it is supposed to. Cool the cake to room temperature then chill for at least two hours before slicing and serving.

Hot chocolate

Here's a recipe for hot chocolate that I've adapted from Hershey's Classic Recipes (Publications International, 2000). It's rich and thick and oh-so chocolatey. For childlike decadence, scatter marshmallows on top.

Royal Hot Chocolate

2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

2 cups boiling water

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped cream (optional)

Ground cinnamon or cocoa powder for sprinkling (optional)

Melt chocolate in a large heavy saucepan over low heat, or in a double boiler over simmering water. Stir in sweetened condensed milk. Gradually add water and milk, stirring until blended. Stir in vanilla.

Garnish with whipped cream and cocoa, if desired.

Serve immediately.

Sugar and spice chocolate truffles

Sugar and Spice Chocolate Truffles

Makes 18 to 24

These sweet spicy truffles take their cue from the ancient Mayans and Aztecs, who were blending chocolate and chilis almost a thousand years years ago.

For the creamiest texture and most intense flavour, use the best dark chocolate you can find, with at least 60 per cent cocoa solids. Cayenne pepper adds a nice kick, but the mild smokiness of piment d'Espelette is even better.

The truffles can be rolled in demerara sugar for an extra little crunch. Demerara is an unrefined cane sugar with larger crystals and a pale-gold colour.

8 oz (225 g) good-quality dark chocolate (60 to 70 per cent cocoa solids)

¾ cup (175 ml) 35 per cent cream

½ tsp ground nutmeg

½ tsp ground cardamom

½ tsp ground allspice

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp piment d'Espelette or cayenne pepper

1 tsp sugar

½ tsp pink peppercorns, coarsely ground (optional)

¼ cup unsweetened powdered cocoa, for coating

demerara sugar, for coating (optional)

Coarsely chop chocolate. Fill the bottom of a double boiler with a few inches of water and bring to a boil over high heat. In top section of double boiler, melt chocolate, reducing heat to low. (If you don't have a double boiler, use a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of boiling water.)

In a small saucepan over low heat, warm cream – but don't let it boil.

Pour warm cream over melted chocolate, add spices and sugar and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.

Remove from heat and let cool slightly, then cover and refrigerate for several hours until mixture is firm enough to handle.

Using a teaspoon or melon baller, scoop out small balls of chocolate and roll into smooth spheres in your palms. (Latex gloves make this less messy.)

Sift cocoa powder onto a dinner plate and roll truffles until well coated. Roll in demerera sugar, if using.

Refrigerate in a single layer in a sealed container. Let stand at room temperature 10 to 15 minutes before serving.