Howard Lipin / U-T

Three indulgent Valentine desserts to treat friends or lovers

Jill O'Connor
Howard Lipin / U-T

When I told my friend Heather that I was developing romantic dessert recipes for Valentine’s Day, she said “Enough with the couples! What about all your single friends? How about desserts for ‘Galentine’s Day’?” If you’re a fan of “Parks and Recreation,” you know that Feb. 13 is Galentine’s Day, Leslie Knopes favorite day of the year, set aside to celebrate female friendship and bonding. It’s “... ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair minus the angst.”

As a Navy wife, I’ve survived my share of solo Valentine’s Days while my husband was deployed in far off places, but that never stopped me from loving all the hearts and flowers — and chocolate — that make this day so sweet. In my mind, Valentine’s Day is for everyone; children, families and all my friends, coupled up or happily single. So, whether you are celebrating Galentine’s Day with your girlfriends on Feb. 13 or Valentine’s Day with a hot date — or both — dessert is a must for both occasions. I’ve devised three super simple, slightly whimsical, but plenty indulgent recipes that are the perfect ending to a candlelit dinner for two or an evening spent eating pizza and binge watching the last season of “Game of Thrones” with your friends. The recipes serve two, but they can all be doubled or tripled with ease, depending on how many friends you invite to your party.

If you like the classics, you can’t go wrong with Hot Chocolate Soup With Pound Cake Croutons. Thick and rich, it’s a cross between hot cocoa and chocolate fudge. With buttery, toasted cubes of pound cake to float atop and dip in to all that chocolaty goodness, your guests will never guess how easy it is to prepare. You can make your own pound cake if you like to bake, but there’s no shame in buying the cake at the grocery store or your local bakery. The fun here is all in the presentation; top bowls of the warm chocolate with a dollop of cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream and dig in.

If you are feeling fancy, or are just settling in to catch up on old episodes of “Sex and the City,” White Chocolate-Passion Fruit Panna Cotta will hit the spot. Panna cotta means “cooked cream” in Italian, and is a stress-free, deceptively uncomplicated custard to make. Here they are made with heavy cream, a little Greek yogurt and melted white chocolate. Poured into martini glasses and chilled until set, the presentation is elegant for such a quick dessert. The whole recipe can be made in less than 15 minutes from start to finish. A tangy passion fruit sauce poured over the top of the custard right before serving gives it just the right amount of zing.

Not nearly as elegant, but a whole lot of fun is my frozen Dirty Banana Sundae. Modeled after a cocktail of the same name, scoops of coffee ice cream are topped with bananas sautéed in a buttery sauce of brown sugar, Kahlua and dark rum and slathered in chocolate whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Your sweetheart — or your special “galentine”— deserve more than your average, run-of-the-mill ice cream sundae, and this one won’t disappoint.

Hot Chocolate Soup With Pound Cake Croutons

Is it soup or hot chocolate? No one will care once they start dipping and floating their toasted pound cake croutons in the warm, gooey chocolate. For the croutons, make your own pound cake, or buy a loaf at your favorite bakery. I like whipped cream, but you can also top this warm soup with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you prefer.

Serves 2 to 3

3 or 4 thick slices of pound cake

1 tablespoon melted butter

2 to 3 tablespoons sugar

2 cups half-and-half

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons cornstarch

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped, or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Whipped cream and chocolate curls for topping

For the pound cake croutons: preheat the broiler. Trim each slice of pound cake into 4 uniform squares. Brush both sides of the pound cake croutons with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and broil each side until lightly browned. Watch carefully so they don’t burn. Set aside to cool.

In a saucepan, combine the half-and-half with the espresso powder and salt. Stir over medium heat until the espresso is completely dissolved. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1 tablespoon water and add to the saucepan. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly, until the half-and-half thickens slightly, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate, whisking until thick and smooth. Taste for sweetness, adding a tablespoon or two of confectioners’ sugar if you want a sweeter flavor. Immediately pour into small bowls or mugs and top with whipped cream and chocolate curls. Serve immediately, garnished with pound cake croutons for dipping.

White Chocolate-Passion Fruit Panna Cotta

This light, delicate custard is very simple to make, and the recipe doubles easily.

Serves 2-3

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided use

3 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup plain, whole-milk Greek yogurt

1/2 cup passion fruit puree (thawed, if frozen) (see note)

In a medium-sized bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 2 tablespoons of cold water. Set aside to soften.

In a medium saucepan, heat the heavy cream and 1/4 cup sugar together over medium high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, just until the cream is hot and starts to simmer.

Pour the hot cream over the gelatin, add the chopped white chocolate, and stir until the gelatin dissolves and the white chocolate melts. Add the vanilla and yogurt and whisk until smooth.

Divide the custard between two or three large martini glasses and refrigerate until firm, at least three hours or overnight.

To make the sauce, stir the passion fruit puree together with 2 tablespoons sugar, adding more sugar to taste if you want a sweeter puree. Spoon the passion fruit sauce over the top of each panna cotta right before serving.

Note: Passion fruit puree is available frozen locally. Look for The Perfect Puree of Napa Valley (available at Specialty Produce) or Goya Fruta, which you can find at Northgate Market.

Dirty Banana Sundae

This quick — and decidedly adult — dessert is a frozen version of a cocktail featuring crème de banane and crème de cacao. For extra lusciousness, the bananas are warmed in a buttery caramel, Kahlua and dark rum sauce before they’re spooned over coffee ice cream.

Serves 2

1 cup heavy cream

2 to 3 tablespoon Dutch Process cocoa powder

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 to 2 large, barely ripe bananas

2 tablespoons Kahlua

2 tablespoons dark rum

1 pint coffee ice cream

Chocolate curls, for garnishing

To make the chocolate whipped cream: Combine the cream, cocoa, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla in a large bowl. Using an electric hand mixer set on low speed, beat together until the cream starts to thicken. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until the cream holds stiff peaks. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use (up to 3 hours.)

Right before serving, combine the butter and brown sugar in a 10-to-12-inch sauté pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the butter melts and the sugar starts to dissolve. While the sugar is melting, peel and slice the banana into 1-inch thick slices. Increase the heat to high and bring the brown sugar syrup to a boil. Add the bananas, kahlua and rum to the pan, stirring to coat the bananas with the sauce. Bring back to a boil and cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Scoop the ice cream into two bowls. Divide the warm bananas and the sauce over two bowls of coffee ice cream. Top with a large dollop of chocolate whipped cream and chocolate curls. Serve immediately.

O’Connor is a San Diego-based food writer and author of seven cookbooks, including her latest, “Cake, I Love You,” published by Chronicle Books.