Sure, Valentine’s Day is one of those commercial holidays, created by the axis of evil made up of greeting card companies, candy makers, and florists solely for the purpose of guilt-tripping us into giving them our money.
I know this, and yet I just can’t resist all the sticky sweet, pink-and-red, heart-shaped sparkliness of it all. But just as my husband and I resisted the pull of the Wedding Industrial Complex five years ago when we managed to pull off an intimate, almost entirely DIY affair to mark our legal union, we go for the heartfelt, homemade, or vintage store-foraged, variety of valentines around here.
For instance, I am still inordinately proud of the card I made for Doug one year early in our relationship that proclaimed “I dig Doug” in a field of pink strewn artfully with red hearts and shiny silver shovel stickers.
For his part, Doug has surprised me with inspired gifts of a literary nature, such as the odd, pink-jacketed 1953 book titled Venus in the Kitchen, by Pilaff Bey, who, it turns out, is the British author Norman Douglas (South Wind) writing under a pen name.
It is an odd collection of recipes alleged to have aphrodisiac qualities, written by an aging Douglas for his friends who, he wrote at the time, “are older than they want to be and… anxious to preserve for as long as may be possible the vitality of their youth and middle age.”
Every year around this time, I pull the book out thinking that I might make something from it for a special Valentine’s Day feast. I flip through its yellowed pages, but with recipes for Pie of Bull’s Testicles and Curried Kidneys, I always get turned off before I can even come close to settling on a menu.
On yet another inspired Valentine’s Day, Doug gave me a first printing, first edition copy of the 1949 Antoinette Pope School Candy Book, by Antoinette and Francois Pope.
While the recipes in this volume are far more appetizing—think Butterscotch Cream Kisses, Chocolate-Dipped Mint Melties, and Old English Nut Toffee—this one intimidates me with all of its special equipment and temperature readings and, well, I am simply too lazy for all of that.
I have, however, recently discovered a fantastical secret: chocolate truffles—those melt-in-your-mouth little nuggets of utter deliciousness purveyed by the swankiest of chocolatiers—are incredibly easy to make.
In fact, they are little more than chocolate and butter melted in cream, sometimes enhanced with liquers or other flavorings and/or dipped in a hard chocolate shell or rolled in any one of an array of coatings.
So this year, rather than hiding the boiled and sliced testicles of a bull under a deceptive cloak of flaky, buttery pie crust, I’ll be giving my lucky hubby sweet balls of hazelnut liquer-laced bittersweet chocolate rolled in a toasty coating of crushed hazelnuts. I think he’s going to dig them.
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 14 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped into ½-inch pieces
- 2 ounces Frangelico hazelnut liqueur (or other liqueur)
- 1 cup roasted (unsalted) hazelnuts
- Place chocolate and butter in a medium bowl.
- In a medium saucepan, bring cream and corn syrup just to a boil. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate and butter and stir until thoroughly melted and well combined. Stir in the Frangelico or other liqueur.
- Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
- Meanwhile, rub the hazelnuts between your hands to remove the bulk of the papery brown skins (don’t worry if some of it doesn’t come off.) Place the nuts (leaving the skins behind) into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and pulse until the nuts are finely chopped. Place chopped nuts in a bowl and set aside.
- Remove the chocolate mixture from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature about 15 minutes.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a #100 scoop, a 1 ¼-inch melon baller, or a teaspoon, scoop out roughly equal-sized balls of the chocolate mixture and place them on the parchment lined baking pan. As you go, stop occasionally and roll the scoops between the palms of your hands to form nice, round balls.
- When you have finished scooping and shaping all of the chocolate, place the baking sheet in the refrigerator to firm the balls up a bit, if needed.
- Remove the baking sheet from the refrigerator and let sit 5 to 10 minutes.
- Roll each ball briefly between the palms of your hands to soften the outside, and then roll firmly in the chopped nuts to coat thoroughly. Set the nut-coated balls back onto the parchment. Repeat until all balls have been coated with nuts.
- Serve immediately or store for up to a week, covered, in the refrigerator.