Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Hearts and flowers

I always thought that Valentine's Day was about sending secret tokens of admiration to people you admire from afar. Cards were absolutely NEVER to be signed with your name but always with a "?". It wasn't supposed to be a day for couples - they already knew they fancied each other - it was a day for secret confessions and exciting mysteries. It always seemed the girls (who already had boyfriends) that made a fuss about Valentine's Day were the same girls who thought teddy bears with keys were the perfect 21st birthday presents and that getting upset because their boyfriend forgot their 3 month "anniversary" was rational and justified behaviour. I knew from a very early age that I didn't want to be one of those girls.

Having said that, in all the relationships I've ever had, I've never been shy of taking part. Why on earth would I, or anyone else for that matter, snub the possibility of a nice card, present and dinner with someone you find rather lovely and who thinks you're rather lovely in return? OK, so it's all another commercially driven exploit to get us to pull our wallets out and not the sweetly romantic mystery it once was. But I'm fine with that. I like giving presents and it's always nice to send and receive cards - still signed with a "?" of course. I embrace it in the way I embrace Father's Day and all the other toshy made up reasons to get and give presents. What I DO snub is dinner out.

Dinner out on Valentine's Day  means being hideously crammed in, practically sitting on the couple next door's laps, forced to choose from an overpriced "romantic" menu, where you are rushed in and rushed out as quickly as possible so they can get the next batch of loved up suckers in. One particular Valentine's Day always springs to mind if ever I'm stupid enough to consider a restaurant meal on the 14th February to be a good idea. Curry seemed a safe option, foolishly thinking an onion bhaji wouldn't be everyone's idea of the food of love. How wrong I was. The place was full to the brim and we were packed in tightly like tinned sardines. It was a set 4 course menu - this I could live with, but alongside the overpriced, smaller than usual, portions came a LIVE ACT. I think he'd come straight off a cruise ship and didn't have a single break. It felt like it went on for HOURS and was so loud it was impossible to hear yourself think, let alone engage in any conversation. The only communication possible were smirks and suppressed giggles which quickly evolved into rolling eyes and unmasked sneers. The whole debacle culminated in the docked cruise ship singer putting his foot on the table, leaning in on his thigh and serenading me with "Sweet Caroline" before, horror upon horror, placing the microphone between us, expecting us to join in with the chorus. The embarrassment came to a head when I weakly pleaded, "I really don't want to. Please don't make me", before he invaded the next table and succeeded in making them get up and dance with him. Nobody else would, despite his desperate beckoning, and the unfortunate lone dancing couple, turned their keen manoeuvres into a sort of awkward bobbing, before eventually sidling back to their tables. The memories of my dinner companion have long since faded, but the memory of that dinner will be with me for life.

Romance, to me, is in the thought and effort you make for someone else and in the thought and effort they make for you. It's easy if you've got the cash to splash out on expensive jewellery, heart shaped boxes of chocolates and a dozen red grand prix roses. You can do the whole weekend away, champagne breakfasts, diamonds and satin sheets thing. You can even get a vulgar teddy holding a heart and I won't judge you (I will). There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of it (apart from maybe the diamonds. And the teddy). It doesn't take much effort to get the plastic out if you've got the funds in your bank account. But if you haven't (or even if you have), thoughtful, home-made gifts, or indeed thoughtful handmade gifts by artisan makers, can hit the spot quicker than any teddy bear (unless you're 8 or under).

This year, Victoria's Cake Boutique have been selling "A Dozen Red Roses" in the form of petit four sized chocolate fudge cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream, each topped with a mini handmade red sugar rose. We've also been making cakes with lips, sparkly hearts, honey buns (honey cakes topped with hearts and sugar honey bees) and hearts and flowers. They all taste good, are perfect for man, woman or beast and are the perfect end to a romantic dinner IN. We've been nice and put the effort in for you, so get in touch if you'd like to get a thoughtful, delicious gift for your special someone. For those of you who want to put the effort in as well as the thought, here is a recipe for Valentine's cupcakes that you can prettily box up and give as a present, have for a Valentine's Day pudding or scoff by yourself with a cup of tea or a bottle of vodka. Delete as appropriate.

Valentine's Honey Buns:
Preheat the oven to 180 C (160 C Fan) and line a deep 12 hole muffin tray with cupcake wrappers.


for the cake
  • 3 oz / 75 g light muscovado sugar
  • 4 tbsp runny honey (I used Scottish heather honey)
  • 6 oz /150 g soft unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 6 oz/ 150 g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
for the buttercream
  • 4 oz/ 100 g soft unsalted butter
  • 8 oz/ 200g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp runny honey
  • A splash of milk.
  • Place the sugar, butter and 3 tbsp of the runny honey in a large saucepan and heat on a low flame until melted.
  • Allow the mixture to cool for about 10 minutes before beating in the eggs.
  • Fold in the flour and baking powder until fully incorporated and spoon the mixture into your cupcake wrappers.
  • Bake on the middle shelf for 20 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • While the cakes are still hot, gently warm the remaining tbsp of honey in a clean saucepan, stab the cupcakes all over with a skewer or cake tester and gently pour a little amount of honey over the top of each cake.
  • Remove the cakes from the tin and leave to cool on a wire rack.
  • To make the buttercream, beat the butter and honey together until pale and fluffy and sift the icing sugar over the top. I always do this in 2 batches, whisking vigorously before each addition of sugar. If you need to slacken the buttercream at all, just add a drop of milk and whisk again. 
  • Ice the cupcakes using either a small palate knife or a piping bag fitted with a no. 8 star nozzle for swirly buttercream or a plain no. 10 for a smooth double dollop. If you choose to pipe your buttercream, you may well need more icing than this recipe makes, so a double batch may be in order.
  • Decorate however you like, but I like to decorate mine with a simple sugar heart and a cute sugar honey bee. 

The picture above is of chocolate fudge cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream, decorated with a sugar heart dusted with edible red glitter. To make these, follow the recipe for my spiced chocolate cupcakes, but substitute the molasses sugar for dark muscovado, leave out the spice and add a generous splash of natural vanilla extract. White chocolate buttercream can be made in exactly the same way as the honey buttercream, by substituting the honey for 4 oz/ 100g of cooled melted white chocolate.

1 comment:

  1. Simon and I don't celebrate Valentines day for all the reasons you suggest. In a backward kinda way i think it's romantic that we don't feel we have to.