For many Valentine's Day won't be complete without chocolate in some shape or form. For a dessert to melt your loved one's heart, try Victoria's Chocolate & Pistachio tarts with a hidden layer of salted caramel.
It always seems a shame that Valentine’s Day has stopped being about sending secret tokens of admiration and mysterious cards signed with a “?”. The delicious enigmas and exciting confessions weren’t supposed to be for couples – they already knew they fancied each other – it was a day of annual courage for lovelorn singletons, hoping their ardour would at last be reciprocated.
Now that couples have hijacked it, Valentine’s Day has become synonymous with public smooching in overcrowded restaurants and teddy bears covered in hearts. There’s something very unnerving about the commercial aesthetic of romance these days. On the weeks leading up to the 14th February, everything becomes pink and fluffy and our eyes are assaulted by cheap heart-shaped tat at every turn. It’s like a 10 year old girl’s bedroom has exploded all over the high street.
Having said that, I hate missing a party and if there’s an excuse for a celebration I don’t want to be left out. I know it’s cooler to turn your nose up at Valentine’s Day altogether, as yet another commercially driven exploit to separate us from more of our hard earned cash, but I don’t really care about any of that. I embrace Valentine’s Day in the same way I embrace Father’s Day and all the other toshy made up reasons to wrap up a gift or send a card. As half of a couple, the thing I always snub on Valentine’s Day is dinner out.
It’s always nice to support your favourite local independent restaurants, but for the most part, dinner out on Valentine's Day is the least romantic restaurant experience of the year. Endless tables for two, crammed together so tight, you’re practically sitting on the next couples’ laps, while being forced to choose from an overpriced "romantic" menu that’s less appealing than their usual fare.
Romance, to me, is in the thought and effort you make for someone else and in the thought and effort they make for you in return. It's easy if you've got the cash to splash out on expensive jewellery, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and a dozen red roses. You can do the whole weekend away, Champagne breakfast, diamonds and satin sheets thing if you like. 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 (except for the teddy). But it doesn't take much effort to get the plastic out if you've got the funds in your bank account. If you haven't (or even if you have), a thoughtful meal at home, lovingly prepared and shared, is what I call a perfect Valentine’s dinner for two. Keep your smug snogging inside your own doors and leave the restaurant tables for the sweetly awkward first dates of all those hopeful singles. It’s their day out there, it’s time for us couples to stay indoors.
My boyfriend is cooking our main course, we’re doing the starter together and I’m making the pud’. That’s what I call romance and there won’t be a fluffy heart in sight.
Chocolate and Pistachio Tarts
These gluten free tarts include a hidden layer of salted pistachio caramel, which is just as sexy as it sounds.
For the gluten free crust (it’s not really pastry, more like a nutty biscuit base)
50g shelled unsalted pistachios (plus extra for decorating if you wish)
30g unsalted butter
25g caster sugar
Blitz the pistachios in a food processor until you’re left with tiny crumbs. Pulse in the rest of the ingredients until you have a smooth, slightly sticky dough. Wrap in cling film and pop it in the fridge for an hour.
Oil two individual tart tins. Divide the dough in half and roll one piece between two sheets of cling film, remove the underside of cling film and place it over the top of one of the tins. Gently press the dough into the tart case and pinch off any overhang before removing the top layer of cling film. Using the cling film helps the dough to stay together and it means you won’t have to use extra flour/cocoa to stop it sticking to your worktop. It also helps prevent you looking like you’re making a dirty protest.
Repeat with the other tin, prick the tarts bases and pop them in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)
Pop the tart shells in the oven for 10 – 12 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before gently turning them out of their cases.
For the pistachio salted caramel
25g light muscovado sugar
1 tbsp. golden syrup
A splash of vanilla extract
½ tsp. salt
50ml double cream
2 tbsp. pistachio paste (you can make your own or buy it here)
Pop the sugar, syrup, salt and vanilla in a small saucepan and stir over a gentle flame until the sugar has completely dissolved. Increase the heat and when the mixture starts to boil add the cream. Reduce the heat and stir for about a minute before taking the pan off the heat and whisking through the pistachio paste. Leave it to cool slightly before pouring a layer of caramel in the base of each tart and leave to cool completely.
For the chocolate filling
50g dark chocolate
25g unsalted butter, cubed
75ml double cream
1 tbsp light muscovado sugar
A splash of vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
Chop the chocolate and place it in a heatproof bowl with the butter. Stir the cream and sugar together in a saucepan over a gentle heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Increase the heat and once the cream begins to scald, pouring it over the chocolate and butter. Leave for a minute before mixing together until the chocolate and butter has melted and the mixture is smooth and glossy. Stir in the vanilla and whisk in the egg yolk. Pour the mixture over the cool pistachio caramel and leave to set completely before decorating with chopped pistachios and raspberries, or however you wish.
Inspired? There's a whole host of romantic Valentine's Day recipes on Great British Chefs for you to enjoy with someone special. What are some of your favourite desserts to round off a romantic meal? Let us know here or over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.