Monday, February 11, 2013

chocolate swirl hearts (egg and dairy free)

Valentine's Day has come to be seen as a day for lovers but the truth is that it doesn't have very romantic origins. In fact, it's a day originally intended to commemorate the execution and sacrifice of a Christian priest named Valentine, (and possibly several other Christian priests so named) who was imprisoned for his spiritual convictions and the things he did, to uphold them, in the early days of the Christian church. It really wasn't so much about hearts and flowers as it was about martyrdom, back in the day.

So what did he do that was terrible enough to warrant his imprisonment and eventual death? Well, the story goes that he secretly married underground Christians, many of whom were soldiers in the Roman army, at a time when the Roman Empire was still in its glory days. Roman soldiers were prohibited from marrying as marriage was seen as a distraction from their military duties.

The Romans wanted to keep their stranglehold on power and saw still nascent Christianity as a significant threat to their supremacy, because of its popular message of equality, love, and a single, merciful and benevolent godhead, in stark contrast to the Roman regime of slavery, crippling taxation, and religion of multiple deities, many of whom were often depicted as petty, jealous, even sadistic.

Apart from conducting secret Christian weddings, Valentine also administered spiritually to the early Christians and the Romans decided he had to be stopped before he sowed further discontent and possibly stirred up rebellion. It's believed that he was asked to stop his ministering in exchange for his freedom. In response, Valentine tried to convert the Roman big wig who offered him freedom if he denied his God. That was deemed the last straw and his head soon came rolling off the chopping block. Poor guy.

How did this tradition of romance, love letters, candy and gift swapping spring up from such tragic circumstances? The story further goes that during his imprisonment, he befriended the daughter of his jailer, a blind girl, and through prayer, cured her of her blindness. On the eve of his execution, he wrote her a farewell letter, in which he signed off as "Your Valentine". The rest is romantic, rose hued and candy coated history. Perhaps the romantic celebrations that have become synonymous with Valentines' Day are an appropriate commemoration and acknowledgement of Valentine's sacrifice after all, as a large part of his life's work, apart from spreading the message of Christianity was to clandestinely unite couples in love, in a time of persecution and secrecy.

Still feeling romantic? May I suggest these delightfully doable and delicious swirly hearts for your sweetheart then? Way cheaper than criminally overpriced roses and candy and so much more meaningful because you made them yourself. I wanted a brioche-like, rich, sweet bread that was quicker and easier than the traditional version and I also made them dairy free so hubs would be able to  enjoy them without reprisal. If you prefer, use butter and dairy milk instead. These are very easy and are part scone, part rugelach and part brioche, but much prettier than any of them. Pretty enough in fact, to give roses a run for their money, or, should that be, your (hard earned) money....

Happy Valentine's Day!

chocolate swirl hearts

prep 25 mins        cook 20 mins        makes 12 hearts

300 g (3 cups) plain or all purpose flour
2 tsp instant yeast
2 - 3 tbsp sugar (I used 2 tbsp and I loved it but my boys said it needed more sugar)
1/2 tsp salt
75 g (1/2 cup) cold firm margarine (I used unhydrogenated olive oil margarine), cubed
180 ml (1 scant cup) cold unsweetened soy milk (or use rice or nut milk if preferred)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 - 1/4 tsp red food colour (I used 1/8 tsp of very concentrated artificial cochineal - bug free)


40 g (about 1/4 cup) soft margarine
150 g (1 cup) semi sweet mini dark chocolate chips


45 g (1/2 cup) sifted icing sugar (sifted before measuring)
2 tsp soy milk

Line a baking tray with parchment or non stick baking paper. In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly whisk together the flour, yeast, sugar and salt.

Cut in the margarine cubes with two knives or a pastry blender/cutter until mixture is coarse and crumbly, with lumps of margarine still visible here and there.

Stir together milk, vanilla and colouring and pour mixture all at once into the flour mixture. Quickly and lightly stir together with a spatula until mixture comes together in a shaggy dough.

Gather together into a cohesive dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured board or work surface and pat or roll out to a rectangle measuring about 30 cm (12 in) by 20 cm (8 in).

Spread dough with soft margarine. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over and gently press chocolate chips down onto dough with rolling pin. Starting from one of the longer edges, roll dough up tightly like a Swiss roll only to the middle of the rectangle. Repeat with the other long edge so both rolls meet in the middle.

Press down gently on dough, all over and cut across roll into 12 slices. Each slice should be 2.5 cm (1 in) thick.  Place each slice flat on work surface with cut swirly side up. Grab top of each slice between index finger and thumb and hold together, while pinching bottom of slice into a point.

Transfer each roll to baking tray and cover lightly with a clean cloth or plastic wrap. Leave to rise for about 30 - 45 minutes or almost doubled. The actual rising time will depend on the ambient temperature of your kitchen or work area. It will be longer in a cooler area and shorter in a warmer area. Don't over rise or hearts will go out of shape.

Half way through rising time, preheat oven at 190 C (380 F). When sufficiently risen, remove cover and bake hearts for 15 - 20 minutes or until slightly crusty and nicely puffed. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.

When hearts are cold, whisk together the glaze ingredients until smooth. It should be of a coating but drip-able consistency. Do not glaze hearts when still warm or the glaze will be absorbed into the crumb, instead of setting to a snowy glaze. Drizzle across the swirly top of each heart. Leave to set before serving.


  1. is in the air! thank you for the story, thank you for the recipe .. so pretty! It's totally different from beginning I follow your recipe LOL - wuhuuu! *hmm, just wonder if Valentine in Singapore similar with us in US, OMG.. here is all about advertising! sometime I feel tired of those 'crazy' adv. **even my little one will having valentine's party in school , and I need to send sweet-stuff for kiddos in class LOL

  2. Hi Fitri, yes, Valentine's Day in Singapore is very, very commercialised, probably same as in the US. Yes, my youngest boy's school is also organising a Valentine's Day party but what's nice about the party is that it is for the whole family so parents and siblings are also invited to have dinner together at the school and participate in activities that will encourage family bonding. I think that's quite a nice and thoughtful way to observe the day :)

  3. had me a little giggle reading your last paragraph...."When hearts are cold,......." :)
    Love your writing style & recipes too. Will definitely give this one a go.
    Thank you

    1. LOL the real gems of humour are the unintentional ones Genevieve ;) Glad you got a chuckle out of it and I hope you do have a lovely Valentine's Day :)

  4. Hi Denise!
    I shall simply and selfishly forget beheadings, blood and gore and such and concentrate on what must be the prettiest cookie I have seen in aeons.
    Those "tartan"ones are especially beautiful and quirky.
    Great read too.

    1. Hi Usha :) Hmmm..... I clearly did a terrible job of vetting this post before I hit "publish". I now see it's peppered with Freudian slips! Let's just say I wasn't in a very romantic mood when I wrote it....

      The hearts are pretty though, aren't they? And damned tasty too. By all means, ignore the sombre text and focus on the flaming pink soft focus visuals. I was thinking "romantic", but apparently, feeling "schizophrenic" . Uhh........ Happy Valentine's Day? ;)

    2. Thank you, Denise. And a Happy Valentine's Day to you too.

  5. Indeed thanks for the story about Valentine's Day Denise. Very commercial today just about everywhere I guess. Oh well at least it keeps the chocolate & flower businesses running. The sale of red roses explode a magnitude here on VDay.
    These swirly hearts look so delicious and kind of remind me of sweet coconut candies. Cookies are not my forté I have to say and this recipe looks quite a challenge for me to give a go LOL but its oh so tempting.

    While walking around our Chinatown here to see the New Year festivites & lion dance yesterday (Sunday) I saw pandan leaves at an asian superette, bought some and will try *fingers crossed* to make a pandan chiffon cake that I've been craving for awhile ever since I saw a participant in the French version of Top Chef making one to my utter surprise.
    Yep thanks for another great read Denise!

    1. You're welcome Jean :) Haha - yes, you're spot on! My mum used to make bright pink coconut candy during my childhood and they do remind me of that, now that you mention it. Don't get me started on red roses during Valentine's Day. It's really ridiculous, but as you say, even flower sellers and chocolate makers need to make a living and it's their day, more than ours LOL These hearts may look a bit fiddly, but they are actually quite easy. In any case, finding fresh pandan in France is a bit of a lottery win, so yes, definitely make the pandan chiffon, to celebrate ;)

      Happy Valentine's day to you and your sweetheart!

    2. Thanks for the V Day wishes Denise. I'm so dingaling I forgot to wish you a Happy Valentine's Day instead of blabbering about my pandan leaves LOL. Hope you had a nice V Day :)

  6. Yes, I remember reading this story a while back. I guess most people choose to remember and quote just the last bit. Anyway, it is a big thing here in the US but surprisingly sale of candy is second to that on Halloween. Your cookies are beautiful and so are the teacup and matching spoon. I like the way you formed the cookies without using a cookie cutter. Very creative indeed!

    1. I guess it's natural for people to block out unpleasant associations and focus only on the nicer or more romantic aspects of such a situation :) In any case, it's always nice to celebrate love as there isn't quite enough of it in this world, so those blessed enough to have it should acknowledge it in some way, I think.

      Thanks for the kind words, Biren but if you only knew - I was frantic at the last minute as my heart shaped cake pans were rusted beyond use and for the life of me, I couldn't find my heart shaped cookie cutters, so I improvised as best as I could to make something heart shaped and I must say, they came out better than I expected!

      The teacup set was a valentine's day gift from hubby, back when I only had two sons LOL Yes, THAT long ago! It's hard to tell from the blurred out images, but they are very dainty and really pretty with finely scalloped edges on the saucer edge, cup rim and foot. The handles are also very delicately scrolled and I love that they have matching teaspoons and a perforated porcelain strainer and drainer. It's one of my absolute favourites, but I'm too scared to use it daily in case it breaks :D

  7. Hiowdy Darling Denise, Happy Valentine's Day ! Can help myself to ROFL. These such beautiful treat for the special season. Absolutely in the mood......of LOVE....
    I'm sure you had a fabulous time.
    Blessings, Kristy ((hugs))

  8. Oooo..... looks super sweet, just right for Valentine's Day =)


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