We’re not big on celebrating Valentine’s Day in our house. In fact, we’re not big on celebrating most festivals, high holy days or nation building activities, preferring instead to keep our money in our wallets and celebrating events that are meaningful to us rather than to retailers. Having said that, there’s no harm in cutting shortbread dough into heart shapes using a biscuit cutter is there?
Like many festivals celebrated in the Christian world, Valentine’s Day can trace its roots back to The Romans. There appear to be numerous Saint Valentines including a priest who married Christians and was martyred for his trouble and a Greek Orthodox Bishop of the same name. Apparently being named Valentine in ancient history is the equivalent to the Dave of our times. It was Geoffrey Chaucer in the Middle Ages that first links Valentine’s Day to the theme of love’ in his ‘Parliament of Fowls and there’s been no going back.
Wing’d Messenger To Loving Hearts
The introduction of the ‘Penny Post’ meant that by the mid 1800’s those in the UK were able to send simple homemade cards with messages of devotion to their loved ones for a mere penny. It’s believed that this is when the tradition of sending anonymous Valentines started, made possible by the cheap postage. Of course it was our old friends The Victorians who really made Valentine’s Day everything it is today. A syrupy pastiche of hearts and doves, greeting cards and love tokens, romantic poems, saucy stanzas and even racist rhymes. Above all though, they introduced commercialisation. Cards were printed in the tens of thousands, embellished with foil, feathers, cut outs, pressed flowers, crystals and lace. Some were so extravagantly decorated that they were presented in gift boxes. Of course, no beautiful card was complete without a sentimental verse written with a flourish in elegant pen and ink. Mass production led to the inevitable reduction in quality. As more ribald versions started to appear and with WWI on the horizon, the public fell out of love with their own Valentine traditions. I’m not sure what they’d make of all those Horny Devils festooning florists at present but suspect they’d probably love them.
Of course all those beautiful cards are hugely collectible these days and a quick search of almost any museum or library will reveal Valentine cards that have been digitised for posterity. The Indiana University’s Lilly Library for rare manuscripts has a great selection. I love that they have the categories ‘Fancy Papers’ and ‘Really Fancy Papers’.
These heart shaped biscuits use a standard shortbread recipe with the addition of some pecan praline that I made from leftover Christmas nuts. It only takes a few minutes so don’t worry that it’s too complicated or that you need to muck around. I rolled this batch thinner than I should have and was surprised that they were still sturdy enough to be transported to work for a (non Valentine) morning tea. Make these to share with your near and dear on any day of the year.
Pecan Praline Shortbread
- 125g butter, softened
- 1/2 cup icing sugar
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1/2 cup rice flour
- 1/2 cup pecan praline, finely chopped (pecan praline recipe)
- 1/4 cup caster sugar to decorate (optional)
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl except the optional caster sugar and mix until a dough comes together (this step can be done in a food processor).
- Pull dough together into a ball and then roll out flat between two sheets of baking paper to approx 5mm thickness.
- Remove top layer of baking paper, cut shapes into dough and transfer biscuits to a lined baking tray. You can sprinkle the top of the biscuits with caster sugar if you want to add some extra crunch and sparkle.
- If it is a warm day, using lower baking paper to lift full sheet of cut pastry into the freezer for a few minutes to chill the pastry and make it easier to lift cut biscuits onto baking tray.
- Bake in an oven for 160c for 30 minutes or until dry. The shortbread should remain pale.
Makes approx 16 – 20 biscuits