According to Wikipedia, there may have not been just one Saint Valentine. Some research shows that “Saint Valentine” is simply the name attributed to as many as fourteen martyred saints of Rome, and due to this and many other discrepancies, this feast day was actually removed from the general Roman Catholic calendar of liturgical veneration. The modern “Valentine’s Day” dates back just to Chaucer, who created a fake tradition in his book Parliament of Foules, and that any historical tradition that Chaucer was trying to imitate was vague and mostly unsubstantiated. However, Americans have really embraced this, the mother of all fake holidays (though one could argue that Christmas could take that award as well), going all out with cards, flowers, extensive (and expensive) dates and outings and gifts. Yikes. It’s enough to make one not even want to have to worry about it. Follow the Roman Catholics! Take it off the calendar!
I’ve never really had much use for Valentine’s Day. I throw cards away almost immediately, enjoy cut flowers but they die pretty quickly, and feel that the pressure that VDay puts on couples is ridiculous and the energy is probably better spent elsewhere. But the one thing that I love about Valentine’s Day is that there is chocolate everywhere. And goodness knows, I love chocolate.
This is just a heads up, folks: if you ever find yourself in need of a gift for me, and unsure of what to get, you will never go wrong with chocolate. Any shape, any size, any flavor (I even like the chocolate with chili pepper in it!). And that, my friends, is the beauty of Valentine’s Day. People just walk around with chocolate. It’s like a mini Christmas all over again. So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, and in the hopes that Saint Valentine (whoever he was/they were) loved chocolate as much as I do, I present to you: Nanaimo Bars from Canada.
(adapted from http://www.whats4eats.com/desserts/nanaimo-bars-recipe)
1 stick of butter
4 tablespoons of cocoa powder (good quality)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup chopped almonds
2 cups confectioner's sugar (I was out of this, of course, and substituted regular sugar instead. It was still delicious)
1 stick butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder (you can use either vanilla pudding mix or cornstarch with a teaspoon of vanilla extract; I used the latter)
2 tablespoons peanut butter
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 60% cacao chocolate chips - yum!)
2 tablespoons butter
1. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the cocoa power and sugar and stir. While the mixture is still over the heat, whisk in the beaten egg. Be sure to whisk constantly, otherwise the egg will scramble! Continue to cook for about 2 minutes, until the mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in the graham cracker crumbs and chopped almonds. Spoon the mixture into a greased 9 x 9 inch baking pan, and press down so it evenly coats the bottom. Put it in the fridge until you're ready to add the next layer.
2. Using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the cream and the vanilla custard powder/pudding mix/cornstarch, vanilla, and peanut butter. Beat until it is light and fluffy. Spread it into the pan on top of the first layer and put it back in the fridge.
3. Heat the chocolate and butter in a double boiler (or a metal bowl over a pot with simmering water). Stir constantly so the chocolate doesn't seize. When the chocolate is melted and the butter incorporated, pour it on top of the buttercream layer and spread until even. Put it in the fridge for several hours or until the chocolate has hardened.
Oh my goodness. These were so good. They are super rich, so don't eat too much (or do... they are really really good). If you cut them right after taking them out of the fridge, the chocolate will snap, so I'd recommend leaving it out for half an hour to an hour before cutting it into squares with a sharp knife.