Supermarket Sweets

Taste-test, Aisle 1.

Sweet Hacks: How to Make 5 Tasty Valentine's Day Desserts From the Aisles at Trader Joe's

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[Photographs: Erin Jackson]

When it comes to Valentine's Day, I believe in leaving the heavy lifting to the professionals; you're not going to catch me baking up a storm in the kitchen, no matter how delicious Cakespy's Pop-Hearts look. If you're similarly inclined and live within striking distance of Trader Joe's, great news: the freezer case is stocked with lots of worthy options for quick and easy Valentine's Day desserts.

Right out of the box, these treats are all good, but with a little extra effort, they can all be made to taste much better. Scroll down for our top five picks, plus tips on how to jazz them up.

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I can't say for sure how the Trader Joe's kouign amann ($3.99 for a box of four) stacks up against bakery versions in Montreal or Portland, but these flaky layered pastries (a lot like a caramelized croissant) are a worthy option for a sweet breakfast treat on Valentine's Day morning.

You'll have to do a little prep the night before (they need to proof for at least six hours, or overnight), but the actual baking only takes 25 minutes (though it will feel longer—these buttery babies smell otherworldly when they're warming up). They're awesome as-is, but you can make them even better by adding a spoonful of your favorite preserves (or even some Nutella) on top.

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Apple blossoms ($1.99 for two) might seem like an odd choice, but there's a solid argument to be made for eating a dessert that's fairly light on Valentine's Day, especially if you've already been snacking on chocolates all day.

Prep is super-easy, just bake the blossoms in the oven at 350°F for 15-20 minutes, or pop them in the microwave (one at a time) for 60 seconds. Ice cream (ideally sprinkled with cinnamon) is a must, but if want to make the blossoms even better, spoon on some cranberry sauce to ratchet up the flavor (and add a splash of red).

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Trader Joe's chocolate lava cakes ($2.99 for a box of two) are what I eat to mark every occasion from birthdays to presidential inaugurations. They're also perfect for Valentine's Day.

The box has instructions for oven preparation, but I've always stuck with the microwave directions, and with great results. The best method I've found is unwrapping the cakes and putting them into the microwave for 40 seconds (in their plastic cups). Then, invert them in a bowl and top with a scoop of ice cream (not whipped cream—it will melt too fast and half the appeal of this dessert is the texture and temperature contrast). Want to make them even better? Sprinkle on some crushed nuts or a handful of roasted coconut chips for crunch.

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With its glistening topping of raspberries, Trader Joe's raspberry tarte ($6.49 for four servings) makes a big impact. You can defrost it in the oven or microwave, but I'd suggest letting it hang out on the counter for an hour, so the crust doesn't dry out or become gummy.

Flavor-wise, the raspberries do most of the talking, while the custard layer between the berries and the flaky, buttery crust is scant. To temper the acidity, add a generous dollop of whipped cream (flavored or plain), or mascarpone whipped cream (4 ounces of mascarpone, 1/2 cup of whipped cream, two tablespoons of powdered sugar, and a splash of vanilla).

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TJ's crème brûlée ($4.99 for four), doesn't stand up to restaurant versions (since the top doesn't have that trademark crunch of caramelized sugar), but if you think of it as vanilla custard served in a crisp, chocolate shell, it's pretty tasty. Preparation is easy: just defrost for an hour at room temperature. Make sure you do this on the plates you intend to serve the dessert on, since once they have defrosted, the crème brûlée is difficult to transport without cracking the shell.

Of all the desserts, this one is in the most need of a little nudge, but it's a fairly blank canvas, so you've got options. Arranging fresh raspberries (or spooning raspberry sauce) on top would introduce some acidity, or you could play off the chocolate coating by sprinkling dark chocolate curls on top.

Did we miss your favorite TJ's dessert hack? Let us know in the comments.

About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her San Diego food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax

Want more of the sweet stuff? Follow us on Twitter @SeriousSweets

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