NEW YORK — You can send candy, you can go out to dinner with your valentine or you can stay in and make a romantic, homemade dessert.

Here's a quickly prepared recipe with a playful name, Hunka Hunka Love, which reflects the whimsical attitude of its creator, Bob Blumer, author of "Off the Eaten Path" (Ballantine Books, $20 paperback).

Blumer is also known as the surreal gourmet, from the title of two previous books and from television programs, all revolving around the irreverent sense of fun apparent in his approach to cooking. He also creates the artwork that gives his books their original look.

The dessert is made of buttery heart-shaped graham cracker crusts, filled with chocolate and caramelized bananas. It's easily made, because, Blumer explains, he's not very much into formal baking or aspects of cooking that call for what he described as "alchemy."

"Everything I do is forgiving," he said in New York recently, on a brief visit from his home base in the Los Angeles area. "This dessert derives from the classic Bananas Foster. The added chocolate is in line with my philosophy — one of my philosophical convictions is that more of anything makes it even better."

This recipe uses six common baking ingredients, and Blumer reminds cooks to always go for the freshest materials available. The dessert can be made in advance and refrigerated until mealtime.

At the moment of serving, there's an optional "flambe" finishing touch, for a dramatic presentation of literally "burning" love.

For music to cook by, Blumer recommends anything by Chet Baker.


(Preparation 10 minutes, cooking time 15 minutes)

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup graham cracker crumbs (available pre-crumbled)

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips, or finely chopped semisweet baking chocolate

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

2 medium bananas, peeled and sliced

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 5 tablespoons butter. Transfer melted butter to a bowl, add graham cracker crumbs and granulated sugar. Blend thoroughly with fork.

Place four 4-inch heart-shaped cookie cutters on ungreased cookie sheet. Divide crumb mixture evenly among 4 cookie cutters. Form crusts by firmly pressing crumb mixture into a crust from 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick, on the bottom and up the sides of each cookie cutter.

Place cookie sheet in oven and bake crusts in cookie cutters until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Crusts may puff slightly during baking. After removing from oven, immediately sprinkle 1 tablespoon chocolate chips inside each crust. Set cookie sheet aside.

In a 10-inch skillet over medium heat, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter and brown sugar. Stir occasionally, for about 4 minutes, until mixture has melted into a smooth golden liquid. Add bananas to liquid and stir for 3 minutes, or until bananas are slightly cooked but not mushy. Spoon bananas evenly into shells. Smooth surface with back of spoon and expose edges of crusts. Gently remove molds.

For the optional "flambe," finish to make Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love:

Set the dessert on the table. Place 2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier, Cointreau or dark rum in large serving spoon. Use a match, lighter or candle to heat underside of spoon for 10 seconds, then touch liquid directly to flame. While liquid is burning, pour a little over each heart. Be careful not to do this near anything flammable, such as table cloths, napkins or your valentine's hair.

For added decadence: Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

To prepare in advance: Make entire recipe earlier in the day and refrigerate. Reheat for 10 minutes at 300 F. just before serving. Makes 4 individual servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 500 cal., 27 g fat, 66 g carbo., 3 g pro. Recipe provided by American Butter Institute.