The Romans wanted to keep their stranglehold on power and saw still nascent Christianity as a significant threat to their supremacy, because of its popular message of equality, love, and a single, merciful and benevolent godhead, in stark contrast to the Roman regime of slavery, crippling taxation, and religion of multiple deities, many of whom were often depicted as petty, jealous, even sadistic.
How did this tradition of romance, love letters, candy and gift swapping spring up from such tragic circumstances? The story further goes that during his imprisonment, he befriended the daughter of his jailer, a blind girl, and through prayer, cured her of her blindness. On the eve of his execution, he wrote her a farewell letter, in which he signed off as "Your Valentine". The rest is romantic, rose hued and candy coated history. Perhaps the romantic celebrations that have become synonymous with Valentines' Day are an appropriate commemoration and acknowledgement of Valentine's sacrifice after all, as a large part of his life's work, apart from spreading the message of Christianity was to clandestinely unite couples in love, in a time of persecution and secrecy.
Still feeling romantic? May I suggest these delightfully doable and delicious swirly hearts for your sweetheart then? Way cheaper than criminally overpriced roses and candy and so much more meaningful because you made them yourself. I wanted a brioche-like, rich, sweet bread that was quicker and easier than the traditional version and I also made them dairy free so hubs would be able to enjoy them without reprisal. If you prefer, use butter and dairy milk instead. These are very easy and are part scone, part rugelach and part brioche, but much prettier than any of them. Pretty enough in fact, to give roses a run for their money, or, should that be, your (hard earned) money....
Happy Valentine's Day!
chocolate swirl hearts
prep 25 mins cook 20 mins makes 12 hearts
300 g (3 cups) plain or all purpose flour
2 tsp instant yeast
2 - 3 tbsp sugar (I used 2 tbsp and I loved it but my boys said it needed more sugar)
1/2 tsp salt
75 g (1/2 cup) cold firm margarine (I used unhydrogenated olive oil margarine), cubed
180 ml (1 scant cup) cold unsweetened soy milk (or use rice or nut milk if preferred)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 - 1/4 tsp red food colour (I used 1/8 tsp of very concentrated artificial cochineal - bug free)
40 g (about 1/4 cup) soft margarine
150 g (1 cup) semi sweet mini dark chocolate chips
45 g (1/2 cup) sifted icing sugar (sifted before measuring)
2 tsp soy milk
Line a baking tray with parchment or non stick baking paper. In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly whisk together the flour, yeast, sugar and salt.
Cut in the margarine cubes with two knives or a pastry blender/cutter until mixture is coarse and crumbly, with lumps of margarine still visible here and there.
Stir together milk, vanilla and colouring and pour mixture all at once into the flour mixture. Quickly and lightly stir together with a spatula until mixture comes together in a shaggy dough.
Gather together into a cohesive dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured board or work surface and pat or roll out to a rectangle measuring about 30 cm (12 in) by 20 cm (8 in).
Spread dough with soft margarine. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over and gently press chocolate chips down onto dough with rolling pin. Starting from one of the longer edges, roll dough up tightly like a Swiss roll only to the middle of the rectangle. Repeat with the other long edge so both rolls meet in the middle.
Press down gently on dough, all over and cut across roll into 12 slices. Each slice should be 2.5 cm (1 in) thick. Place each slice flat on work surface with cut swirly side up. Grab top of each slice between index finger and thumb and hold together, while pinching bottom of slice into a point.
Transfer each roll to baking tray and cover lightly with a clean cloth or plastic wrap. Leave to rise for about 30 - 45 minutes or almost doubled. The actual rising time will depend on the ambient temperature of your kitchen or work area. It will be longer in a cooler area and shorter in a warmer area. Don't over rise or hearts will go out of shape.
Half way through rising time, preheat oven at 190 C (380 F). When sufficiently risen, remove cover and bake hearts for 15 - 20 minutes or until slightly crusty and nicely puffed. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.
When hearts are cold, whisk together the glaze ingredients until smooth. It should be of a coating but drip-able consistency. Do not glaze hearts when still warm or the glaze will be absorbed into the crumb, instead of setting to a snowy glaze. Drizzle across the swirly top of each heart. Leave to set before serving.