Have you ever wondered why we give chocolates on Valentines Day? I was curious, so did a bit of research and this is what I discovered.
Looking back at Roman times, there were celebrations for St. Valentine or the Feast of St. Valentine. No cards, no candy, maybe a few flowers for the church.
St. Valentine, according to romantic legend, was a kind-hearted Roman priest who married young couples against the wishes of Emperor Claudius II, and was beheaded for his deeds on the 14th of February.
The legend has it that rulers believed unwed soldiers were better fighters because they would not fear what would happen to a wife if they perished in battle. Hence, the edict forbidding the marriage of young people.
Valentine married the young lovers secretly, resulting in his subsequent torture and beheading.
In truth, the exact origins and identity of St. Valentine are not known.
Often, traditions are based on legend.
What we do know is that in 1382 Chaucer began to write about romance and St. Valentines Day.
Chaucer’s “Parliament of Fowls” makes the first romantic reference to what has become our romantic holiday.
Fast forward to the 1840’s when the English speaking countries began to celebrate love. Victorians adored the idea of showering their love interest with gifts, especially since PDA would be considered scandalous. At that time, cards were hand written with one’s personal thoughts and feelings.
Enter Richard Cadbury, of the British chocolate making family. It was Richard who discovered a way to improve chocolate techniques, using pure cocoa butter from whole beans to improve the flavor of the luxury of hot chocolate drinks. His new process resulted in an excess of cocoa butter and his imagination recognized there could be a market for edible chocolates. In short order beautifully decorated chocolates in the shapes of cupids and hearts began to appear. It’s believed that it was he who created the heart shaped boxes we still find today. The more elaborate, the more likely this box would become more than a keepsake. They became family heirlooms.
With the onset of WWII, and the rationing of sugar, flowers went to the top of the list for romantic gifts.
When this holiday was still non-commercial, the Italians had some charming traditions. The celebration of love day was an open air experience where young couples listened to music and read poetry. Then, when the moment was right they would walk with their “Valentine” in the gardens.
For years the Italians would announce their engagements on February 14th. Also on this date, unmarried Italian girls would rise at dawn and look out their windows because it was said that the first man they saw would become their husband within the year.
These days there seems to be so much pressure to create the perfect Valentines Day for one’s significant other. I can’t help with all of this, but maybe the following idea will help you to create a little surprise with something personal and really pretty easy.
Why not make your own candy gift for that special someone, or even for your family as a whole.
As I’ve said many times before, a gift from the kitchen really does come from the heart.
No need to panic, either. The recipes I am sharing are really quite easy, and inexpensive. Try to get the image of the “I Love Lucy” candy-making episode out of your head. Now, that’s better.
You will easily be able to find all the ingredients you need, as well some pretty little paper candy cups to hold your creations. Shackfords in Napa has these, as well as Target. Just look in the Valentine shopping section.
This first recipe I call “Drunken Cherries”. You can give them a more romantic name if you like for this particular occasion.
Jar of maraschino cherries with stems
(size of the jar depends on how many cherries you plan to create)
Brandy or bourbon
10 oz. Ghirardelli dark chocolate melting wafers
Decorative paper candy cups
Pour out half of the cherry liquid and conserve for another use. Replace the cherry liquid with either brandy or bourbon (I prefer brandy).
Replace lid to jar and store in fridge 30 days. If you don’t have 30 days for this process, decrease the amount of cherry juice and increase the alcohol. You need to soak for at least 2 weeks.
Every few days give the jar a couple of gentle shakes.
When ready to make your candy, drain all the liquid (or keep for another use) and pat dry the cherries with paper towel.
Lay out a sheet of waxed paper or parchment on the counter.
Melt chocolate wafers per instructions.
Holding cherries by stems, dip into the warm melted chocolate until all but stem are completely coated. Place on waxed/parchment paper. Allow to set for 15 minutes. Once chocolate is dried, move each cherry into a decorate candy cups.
Can be kept at room temperature for 48 hours, or in the refrigerator for up to a week. Serve at room temp.
Now, wasn’t that easy?
Forget the Reese’s heart shaped candies and try this next easy recipe instead. This recipe was shared by a friend of the family and every year since my daughter has prepared these for all the family at Christmas. We try to remember to say hello to her when she walks in the door before we ask her if she remembered to bring the peanut butter balls.
Peanut Butter Balls
1 ounce paraffin wax shaved
12 ounces chocolate chips (milk or dark)
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 small box powdered sugar
2 sticks butter, melted
1 cup creamy peanut butter
Mix all ingredients (except wax and chocolate chips) in a bowl. Roll small balls, 1 inch maximum, and place them on a plate or sheet of waxed paper.
In double boiler, melt chocolate chips and shavings of paraffin completely. Keep chocolate melted over low heat while dipping peanut butter balls.
Drop peanut butter balls into the chocolate and then place on waxed paper to dry. Use enough Paraffin wax to set the chocolate. You can place the dipped peanut butter balls in the fridge to help speed up the setting process. Serve peanut butter balls in candy paper cups at room temperature. Store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Makes an abbondanza number of candies, depending on the size of the balls you create. You may want to cut the recipe in half.
This next recipe has several more steps, but it’s easier than it looks. Takes only an hour to prepare. If your sweetie is Italian, they will love this one.
Nougat Almond Candy
Makes 15-20 pieces
2 to 3 edible wafer papers (available at cook stores and party stores)
3 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup honey
2 cups granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
3 cups whole blanched almonds
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 8-inch square baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Line bottom and sides of pan with edible wafer paper. Cut pieces as needed to fit. Set aside.
Place egg whites and cream of tartar in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Put honey into medium saucepan. Pour sugar and salt into the center of the pan. Cook mixture over medium heat, without stirring, until honey begins to simmer around the edges of pan. About 5 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium-low, cooking gently and swirling the plan until sugar is dissolved. Mixture should turn to dark amber color and reach 320 degrees on kitchen thermometer. Takes from 10 to 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and allows bubbling to subside.
When honey mixture reaches 270 degrees, turn mixer to medium-low and begin whipping egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. About 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and whip until soft peaks form. Another 2 to 3 minutes.
Reduce speed to low and slowly add hot honey mixture to the center of mixture. Avoid pouring against bowl or on whip. Mix until well blended. Increase speed to medium and whip, scraping down sides of bowl two or three times, until mixture is pale, thick and stiff. About 10 minutes.
While nougat mixture is whipping, spread almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and heat in 350 degree oven until warm and slightly aromatic. About 5 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven and keep the almonds on baking sheet to keep warm.
Reduce mixer speed to low, add warm almonds and vanilla to mixture.
Work quickly and scrape candy evenly into the prepared pan using a rubber spatula that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.
Cover top surface of the candy with a single piece of edible wafer paper, trimmed to fit the pan. Place parchment paper on top and press very firmly with another 8-inch square baking pan to compact the candy and remove air bubbles. Let pan cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until very firm, about 2 hours.
Discard parchment. Use a sharp paring knife to trim excess pieces of edible wafer paper from edges. Turn candy out onto a cutting board. Cut the torrone into pieces about 1”x2”. Torrone can be stored at room temperature or refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Use parchment to line the container and separate layers.
A handmade sweet gift and a handmade personal card and you will be the Cupid in your house.