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Layers of love

On Valentine's Day (or any day), you can never have enough dessert. Unless it's layers of thick, rich, decadent chocolate truffle mousse and light-as-a-cloud whipped mocha cream. A little goes a long way.

Not too many years ago, before the Food Network came along with "Bam" and "Yummo," I watched down-to-earth chefs passionately prepare food on The Learning Channel. Chocolate lovers like me would drool as we watched Marcel Desaulniers share his zeal for all things chocolate. The executive chef and co-owner of The Trellis Restaurant in Colonial Williamsburg, Va., created chocolate desserts on "Death by Chocolate," a show carrying the same name as his best-selling, James Beard award-winning cookbook.

He taught me how to create my own double boiler by placing a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water, because this is the way to melt chocolate, and if you don't have a double boiler, you just make your own. I'm not sure I would have thought to pipe whipped cream through a pastry tube into a brandy snifter to form parfait layers. And I probably wouldn't have called a layered dessert that did not include ice cream a parfait.

The techniques I gathered from Desaulniers led me to develop a dessert that combines a few of my favorite things: chocolate, coffee and whipped cream.

My "Love You" Chocolate Truffle and Mocha Cream Parfaits are not difficult to make. Semisweet chocolate is melted and mixed with chocolate milk, and then a puff of whipped cream is folded into the chocolate to lighten it just a bit. That's the layer that will melt in your mouth like a chocolate truffle. Sweetened whipped cream spiked with coffee syrup and a sprinkling of unsweetened baking cocoa is just what's needed to breathe fluffiness into the dessert. The indulgent layers can be piped into small glasses or espresso cups hours before serving or even the day before, and kept tightly covered in the refrigerator.

I make my own coffee syrup by mixing instant espresso powder with boiling water (see tip). It keeps well for months stored in a jar in the refrigerator. I dip into it to add a teaspoon or two to a cup of hot chocolate, I add some to my favorite hot fudge sauce and I sometimes sneak a little into chocolate cake batter or frosting.

For years I've kept a message I received from a fortune cookie taped up where I can see it every day. It reads, "Tell the ones you love that you do." What better way to show those you hold dear how much they mean to you than with tiny "Love You" Chocolate Truffle and Mocha Cream Parfaits. You don't have to wait for Valentine's Day.

"Love You" Chocolate Truffle and Mocha Cream Parfaits

1/2 cup chocolate milk, 2 percent fat

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup whipping cream, divided

2 tablespoons sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa

3/4 teaspoon coffee syrup (see tip below)

Whipped cream and chocolate shavings for garnish

In the top of a double boiler or in a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water, place chocolate milk and chopped semisweet chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Add vanilla and mix well. Set mixture aside to cool.

When chocolate mixture has reached room temperature, prepare Mocha Cream. In glass bowl, beat 1/2 cup whipping cream, sugar, unsweetened cocoa and coffee syrup until mixture is stiff.

Beat remaining 1/2 cup whipping cream until stiff. Fold whipped cream into cooled chocolate mixture.

With a pastry tube, pipe alternating layers of Chocolate Truffle Mousse and Mocha Cream into small glasses or espresso cups. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

At serving time, top each parfait with whipped cream and sprinkle with chocolate shavings.

Tips from the cook

--Make your own coffee syrup by mixing 1/2 cup instant espresso powder with 2 tablespoons of boiling water. Instant espresso powder is available in a small jar in many grocery stores. If you are unable to find it, use the finest-ground instant coffee available. Store the syrup in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for months.

--Plastic sandwich bags with one lower corner snipped off can be used for piping the parfait layers into small glasses if you don't have pastry tubes.