Valentine's Day Delight

At a chocolate cook-off in Panama, cruisers discover and I've-died-and-gone-to-heaven treat worthy of the saint himself. "People and Food" from our February 2010 issue

valentines dessert

Cruisers' Fudge Brownie ParfaitLynda Morris Childress

Since retiring in 1992, my husband, Carl, and I had been rattling around the Caribbean aboard Camryka, our Pan Oceanic 46 pilothouse cutter. Spectacular anchorages abound in Panama's Archipiélago de Bocas del Toro, but we especially wanted to see Laguna Porras, also known as Dolphin Bay, which lay about eight miles south; cruising friends we'd met in the eastern Caribbean had built a house there. George and Sue Hemming took us walking through their jungle trails, pointing out orchids, parrots, and the bright colors of what people call poison-dart frogs. Butterflies danced in Sue's flowers. Suething, their Gulfstar 45, bobbed alongside Camryka, both boats tucked behind a reef in front of the house. The Hemmings introduced us to their only nearby expatriate neighbors, David and Linda Cerutti, a former charter captain and his wife. The Ceruttis' pristine property, where cacao trees prosper under a rain-forest canopy, is so lush that it could be confused with a national park. As a hobby, David makes and sells chocolate, and he loves explaining to cruisers the ins and outs of growing and processing cacao in his tiny "chocolate factory."

When the Ceruttis invited cruisers in the Bocas del Toro area to participate in their annual Valentine's Day Chocolate Cook-Off, we readily joined in. On February 14, with the gala in full swing, the contestants' tables sagged with glorious cakes, pies, mousses, cookies, drinks, breads, sauces, and candy. Like wine stewards, contest judges sniffed, inspected, and savored each entry. Yes, their job was a hard one, but as they say, somebody had to do it.

David presented a crisp US$100 bill to the winner-and then came the moment that everyone, especially the cruisers, had waited for: sampling the entries. Imagine a plate filled with a variety of luscious dark-chocolate treats-a chocolate-lover's I've-died-and-gone-to-heaven scenario. There were no losers in the bunch.
Joellen Jeffers' Fudge Brownie Parfait won the Ceruttis' prize that year, and she willingly shared her recipe. Dessert doesn't get any better than Joellen's rich chocolate brownies with great dollops of even richer chocolate parfait layered in a pretty glass and topped with fluffy whipped cream.

But wait! How could I make this multi-step delight in my two-step galley, especially at times when we anchor days from the nearest grocery? Hmmmm-if I put chocolate pudding in a fancy glass, wouldn't it be next of kin to parfait? And if I tossed an extra half a cup of dark cocoa into the batter, wouldn't my made-from-a-box-mix brownies get rave reviews? And weren't there always several packets of whipped topping mix in Camryka's lockers? Cooking while cruising means making do with what you have. Guess what, Joellen? Your recipe has gone cruising! So far, all the guests who serve as judges aboard Camryka agree that Cruisers' Fudge Brownie Parfait is a winner! Thanks, Joellen!

Cruisers' Fudge Brownie Parfait

1 box chocolate pudding mix
1 box chocolate brownie mix
1/2 cup dark chocolate, ground finely
1 package whipped topping mix
or 1 can prepared whipped cream
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
Maraschino cherries, for garnish

Prepare pudding according to package directions. Cool, cover, and chill. Prepare brownies according to directions, but add 1/2 cup ground dark chocolate to batter. Bake, cool, and cut into squares. If using whipped topping mix, prepare according to package directions and chill until ready to serve. Assemble in six glasses: Layer one brownie square, add a large dollop of chilled pudding, add a second brownie square, then another dollop of pudding. Top with cream, nuts, and a cherry. Serve immediately. Serves six.