Thursday, 5 February 2015

Baking Hearts (Again)

So it seems as Valentines Day rears it’s ugly head the shops are becoming full of heart shaped tat and sickly sweet sentiments of love once again.

My early memories of Valentines Day were not too fond. I went to an all girls secondary school, so you would think I would’ve been safe from the mandatory exchanging of cards and overpriced rubbish but alas you would be wrong. Very wrong. Our school would join forces with the local boys grammar and to mark the occasion we would be allowed to purchase a rose on the week running up to St. Valentines. This would be delivered to our chosen stud at some point through the day. In return they could do the same for us. That meant an excruciating 8 periods of lessons where you were delightfully reminded that no, you were not the object of the local hotties affections. No likey - no lighty. There was always that one girl who would get hundreds of the bloody things. Seriously she wouldn’t even be able to fit on the bus home. I won’t lie, and anyone who has access to the wealth of pictures of the secondary school me would probably agree, I was no supermodel as a teenager. Suffice to say I was never in danger of putting Interflora out of business.  However I developed a good sense of humour, besides the girls that were beautiful as teenagers never developed much of a personality, well not at my school anyway, they just relied on their looks to get them through.

Fast forward a few years and my dislike of Valentines day is still present, even though the rose roulette is a now a distant memory. I just can’t get into the spirit of the “organised love.” I find it soulless and without any real sentiment. I feel like an over fattened goose, on the road to becoming a foie gras parfait, force-fed with hallmark messages of fake romance. Yuck! Plus the overpriced set menus that fill every single restaurant get on my nerves. The conveyer belt of sittings that they try to ram in, in order to create more revenue, removes any chance to linger with your loved one anyway, really what’s the point? In my opinion it’s a day designed to make people feel bad. Single people feel terrible, people in couples feel pressured to pull out all the stops, or disappointed when their partners don’t. The girl/boy who gloats about how much their partner has spoiled them is usually the one who gets treated like dirt all year around anyway. Again, what’s the point? And don’t even get me started on anyone that actually gets engaged on Valentines Day; pass the (heart shaped) bucket please.

However Valentines Day is here to stay so instead of harbouring all these feelings of angst I have decided to take my own joy from Valentines Day. Besides I can’t let a perfectly good excuse to dust off my heart shaped cutters and bake up something beautiful go to waste. Here’s what I plan to do, and you can to, should the mood take you. Make your Valentine someone unexpected this year. Your 'Un-Valentine' could be the lonely old man you always bump into in the post office, the auntie you always forget to thank for your Lynx deodorant set at Christmas. The postman who always finds the time to smile and say hello or your brothers awkward friend who everyone knows is getting nothing this year. That way you can make someone smile who never expected to. This isn’t ‘jumping through hoops’ kindness that we are shepherded into believing is the right way to behave, simply to avoid a bollocking from our other halves. Instead it’s just a simple token of generosity and good will towards a fellow human being. Plus who knows, maybe you’ll even be on the receiving end of an unexpected Valentines treat this year.

Happy Valentines Day!

Giant Valentines Jammy Dodger
Show me someone who dislikes shortbread biscuits and strawberry jam and I’ll show you a very surprised emoji face. This is simplicity at it’s best.

250g pack butter, at room temperature
100g golden caster sugar, plus about 2 tbsp for dusting
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour, plus a little for dusting
140g ground rice
400g strawberry jam
1 tbsp cornflour

1 Heat your oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 with shelves in the middle and lower third. Line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment. Place the tin on another sheet and draw around it; this will form the template for the top. Turn the paper over and put on a flat tray, you should still be able to see the outline. If not your pen is rubbish. Use a better pen, see it now? Great. Continue.

2 Beat the butter, caster sugar and vanilla with an electric whisk, until pale and fluffy. Stir in the flour and ground rice using a spatula then get your hands in and knead to smooth dough. Halve the dough, and press one half into the base of the tin.

3 Roll out the remaining dough on your sheet of prepared parchment (allow yourself to say here’s one I prepared earlier) to fill the square, trim to neaten a little but be warned it will spread so you’ll have to do this again after you’ve baked it. Stamp out a line of hearts, then two more, (see pic). Put the hearts on the tray too, extra biscuits!

4 Bake the base on the middle shelf and the top on the lower for 20-25 mins, until pale golden and sandy. Once cooked remove and immediately re stamp the hearts out as the biscuit spreads while cooking, trim to the square shape. Cool fully.

5 Mix the cornflour with 1 tbsp of cold water until combined put in a pan with the jam and bring to a boil, simmer until thickened then sieve into a bowl. You can leave out this step but it makes the jam thicker and glossy. Once cool put the base on a serving plate, spread ¾’s of the jam on top. Spread out leaving about 4mm border, as the jam will spread out with the weight of the top when you put it on. Gently lift it on, it will probably crack, mine did, but just do your best to gently put it back together, you’ll cover it up with sugar in a min, goody more sugar!!

6 Brush the top with a little water and then scatter on the rest of the golden caster sugar, spreading it out to cover the cracks (if you have some). Spoon the ¼ of the jam that’s left into the heart gaps and use the other end of the spoon to spread the jam out so it fills the holes up more and looks more even. Give to your un-valentine! 

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