There are several versions of the history of St Valentine’s Day; here are a couple of them:-
1. Emperor Claudius II had banned marriage because he thought married men were bad soldiers. Valentine felt this was unfair so he broke the rules and arranged marriages in secret. When Claudius found out, Valentine was thrown in jail and sentenced to death. There, he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and when he was taken to be killed on 14th February, he sent her a love letter signed “from your Valentine.”
2. The ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name of our modern day of love. Emperor Claudius II executed two men, both named Valentine, on 14th February of different years in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honoured by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.
These buttery shortbread biscuits, with a chocolate dipping sauce, make a fabulous Valentine’s Day treat for your beloved and yourself. They are delicious served with fresh fruit and are a good accompaniment to desserts such as Crème Brulee and trifles.
1 x 250g (9oz) softened, unsalted butter
250g (9oz) caster sugar
1 egg yolk, room temperature
A few drops of vanilla extract
2 tbsp rosewater
100g (4oz) ground almonds
275g (10oz) plain fine flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
100g (4oz) dried Greek figs, finely chopped
Pre-heat the oven to 170c / 325f / Gas mark 3. In a medium sized bowl, cream the butter for 5 minutes with an electric whisk until light and fluffy, add the sugar and whisk for a few minutes, then add the egg yolk, vanilla and rosewater.
Using a wooden spoon, start mixing in the sifted flour gently, bit by bit.
Using your hand, add the ground almonds and figs, and mix lightly until the dough is smooth and firm and doesn’t stick on your hands (avoid working the dough too much). Leave the mixture to rest for a few minutes.
Divide the dough in two, roll one half of the dough at a time to about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick using a little flour. Cut out into small heart shapes with a biscuit cutter and place on baking trays. You can decorate the middle of each biscuit with a glacé cherry and bake for 15 to 18 minutes until very lightly golden; do not allow the biscuits to go brown.
When cooled, store in airtight containers – the flavour will improve after a few days. They can be stored this way for up to a month.
For the chocolate fondue:
100g luxury plain or milk chocolate, broken in pieces
1 x 142ml double cream
2 tbsp Cointreau or Rum
Fruit for serving:
Strawberries (keep whole), pineapple chunks, Kiwi fruit chunks, Cherries, Clementine segments.
Place chocolate, cream, butter and Cointreau/Rum in a small saucepan or over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water otherwise it will go grainy, stir until chocolate is melted and glossy. You could microwave the chocolate on high for 1 minute, remove and whisk until well-combined.
Fill a small bowl with the melted chocolate and set on a large plate surrounded by the shortbreads and your favourite fruit.