SIOUX CITY -- Iris Hammer said her downfall has always been a love for chocolate.

"If I could have chocolate every day, I would," The Pastry Parlor owner said with a smile. "That's true on Valentine's Day as well as any other day."

However, Hammer was hard at work baking red velvet, heart-shaped mini-cakes. She's pairing them with strawberries dipped in a rich milk chocolate.

"Every Valentine's Day, I make something special," she said, placing the baked goods into a gift box. "This is what I'll be doing between now and Feb. 14."

Hammer said the heart-shaped cakes with a slightly tart raspberry filling work for a couple of reasons.

"They're small enough to be guilt-free," she reasoned. "We're not going to ruin anyone's diet."

Additionally, the red velvet cakes and chocolate strawberry combo is an appropriate gift for spouses or children as well as a boss wanting something sweet for his employees on Valentine's Day.

"Flowers may send the wrong message," Hammer explained. "After all, no one turns down something sweet."

This has long been Hammer's philosophy. A native of Germany, she opened The Pastry Parlor inside the parlor of her 16 16th St. house nearly four years ago.

"In other parts of the world, it is very common to have a business inside of your home," she allowed. "It is more unusual in this country."

Still, Hammer said people are now becoming acclimated to The Pastry Parlor's unusual selection of American and German sweet treats.

"We've adapted some of our recipes to suit American tastes," she said. "American baked goods tend to have more frosting than European baked goods. That's why we're frosting more things."

Which isn't to say that Hammer and her office manager-sister Heike Craig have been shy in adding authentic German baked goods. This includes a rich and decadent Black Forest cake (a chocolate sponge cake made with cherries and, usually, a cherry-flavored liqueur); a sweet Bienenstich (or Bee-Sting cake); in addition to a Frankfurter Kranz cake, which is a personal favorite of Hammer.

"I love my Frankfurter Kranz," she said of the cherry-topped sponge cake invented in Frankfurt, Germany. "That's a very traditional holiday cake for us."

Perhaps not too surprisingly, Valentine's Day is also becoming popular in Hammer's native country.

"I think Germans will use any excuse in order to eat something sweet," she noted with a laugh.

Ironically, that's a trait Germans share with Americans.

"Every day, I feel blessed because I get to do what I love," Hammer said. "Every day, I get to meet with customers who always have smiles on their faces."

"Hey, it's hard to be in a bad mood when you're inside a bakery," she said.

One more question: what would put a smile on Hammer's face on Feb. 14?

"What do I want for Valentine's Day? It has to be something made of chocolate," she admitted. "Chocolate will always be my downfall."  

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Food and Lifestyles reporter

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