Valentine's Day will soon be upon us and at home here in Wales I notice there are many advertisements in the local newspapers for Valentine's short breaks to Paris. This is surely a most romantic getaway for those couples wanting to spend a special time together and where could be more romantic than Paris!
Valentine's Day is of course celebrated in similar ways in France as in other countries with the giving of such gifts as flowers, cards and most importantly, chocolates!
It is suggested that France was actually the origin of the Valentine card with Charles, the Duke of Orleans having written the very first Valentine card. He was at the time made captive at the Battle of Agincourt and imprisoned in the Tower of London. It was from here that he wrote a poem or 'Valentine' to his wife, thus starting the tradition of exchanging love poems.
Many years ago France used to have another custom called 'drawing for' where unmarried people would be paired off with each other. However, if the man was not pleased with his partner he would desert her. This led to the ladies building a bonfire and burning images of their somewhat ungrateful suitors. This was eventually banned by the French Government because of the hostility it created.
Paris and chocolate seem to go together like a lasting love affair. The French take their chocolate very seriously and they have only the very best quality. Whether they are drinking a velvety cup of the finest hot chocolate for breakfast or having a pain au chocolate with their morning coffee it is sure to be sensational.
One of my favourite pleasures are those delicious macaroons with a cup of hot chocolate as an afternoon treat but I also absolutely love dark chocolate truffles after a romantic dinner.
The French are masters of the craft of chocolate creations as can be seen with the Parisian artisan chocolatiers who make the best chocolates in the world. In Paris they have as much respect for chocolate as they do for their finest wines.
Chocolate also has a reputation as an aphrodisiac and indeed many years ago chocolate used to be blended with medicinal properties such as almond milk or orange blossom to calm the nerves. These can still be bought in the rue des Sts-Pères today.
Of course nowadays you will also find more sophisticated flavourings such as cinnamon, citrus zest, ylang-ylang and then for those who can afford it, decorated in a much more elaborate way - gilded with pure gold leaf!
If you find this may be your idea of a short break for someone special you will find some ideal properties at www.frenchconnections.co.uk where you can enjoy France at a time when it is quieter and where you will enjoy the sightseeing and embrace the food and culture.
You will find many small restaurants and bistros to suit all pockets in most regions of France and if it is a romantic Valentine's getaway you will have so many choices of good food you cannot go wrong.
For this month's recipe I have chosen one of my favourite treats – of course I do not have the secret recipe of the French artisan chocolatires but this is still a very good second best in my opinion. It is for the most delicious Chocolate Truffles! As long as you buy the best chocolate you can afford, they will be wonderful and you will have good value for your effort.
It is best to prepare them ahead of time as they need to be chilled overnight but they will keep for up to ten days.
- 10oz/275g plain chocolate, chopped
- 6fl oz/175mls/3/4 cup heavy cream (double)
- 1oz/30g unsalted butter
- 2 - 3 tablespoons brandy (optional)
The Coating - Either of the Following:
- Cocoa Powder
- Chopped Pistachio nuts
- 14oz/400g plain chocolate, milk chocolate or white.
Using a bain marie, heat the cream in a bowl or pan until boiling. Take the pan from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until melted. Stir in the butter until well mixed and add the brandy if using.
Strain the chocolate mixture through a sieve into a bowl and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
Prepare a baking sheet and line with baking paper. Using two teaspoons or if you have one, a small ice-cream scoop and form the mixture into small balls and place them on the baking sheet. If the mixture begins to soften, place it back in the refrigerator. You should get about 20 - 30 truffles.
Coating the Truffles
Sieve the cocoa powder into a bowl and place the truffles in the powder until well coated. If using Pistachio nuts, roll the truffles in finely chopped Pistachio crumbs.
Your truffles can now be chilled for up to ten days. Ensure they are wrapped well.
Coating with Chocolate
Freeze the truffles for about an hour. Prepare your chosen chocolate by melting it in a bain marie or a small bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Place the frozen truffles individually in the melted chocolate and place immediately on a baking tray with baking paper and then chill in the refrigerator.
Wrap your truffles and store chilled for up to ten days.
P.S. If you would like a dinner recipe to go with them you will find many to choose from on my website at www.french-recipes-to-love.com