Today is Valentine’s Day, and this day isn’t just about hearts and flowers and love and candy. About one thousand, seven hundred and forty-nine years ago, a Roman priest named Valentinus sat in prison, awaiting his death. He defied an oppressive Roman emperor because he presided over the marriages of Christian couples who were in love, at a time when such a thing was not allowed.
One legend states that while Valentinus was awaiting his execution, he healed the jailer’s young, blind daughter, who often visited him. On the day he was executed, he left her a note signed, “Your Valentine.”
Over the years, St. Valentine has become known as the Patron Saint of engaged couples, happy marriages, love and lovers, among other slightly more obscure things such as bee-keeping, fainting and traveling.
Represented in pictures with birds and roses, his feast day is celebrated on February 14 – the day Valentinus was executed. Such a tragic story, and not at all what most people think about when Valentine’s Day rolls around. But neither is bee-keeping or fainting, if you ask me.
Nowadays, Valentinus/St. Valentine is all but forgotten in a flurry of chocolate, hearts, roses, gifts and the colors red and pink. According to the National Retail Federation, this year is expected to be a banner year for Valentine’s Day sales, although the number of people shopping has dropped dramatically. Fewer people are shopping, but they’re spending more. Why not make your own homemade chocolates to give and to eat?
Several years ago, I bought silicone candy molds when I discovered that I could make chocolate at home. Using a few natural ingredients, I was hooked from the first bar I made in a loaf pan. I’ve lost count of how many delightful little bites of differently-shaped chocolatey goodness I’ve produced and consumed since making that fateful discovery.
Last year, I made homemade chocolates of all shapes and flavors to sell at the Lions Club’s Valentine’s Day Bake Sale, and decided that I want to be a chocolatier when I grow up. I told my husband that, and he just chuckled. At that point, I’d gotten pretty creative with our chocolates.
I like to mix in a little cayenne and cinnamon to the chocolate for a spicy kick, or add a few drops of peppermint oil for a cool twist. Adding a few drops of orange oil is delicious. You can press nuts into the bark when you have it in the pan, or stick a nut in each compartment of the silicone candy mold if you’re using melted chocolate.
The options are only limited to your imagination. Lemongrass chocolate and lavender chocolate candies are not something I’ll make again.
When family visited last summer and went to the McDonald Observatory for a Star Party, we babysat my hilarious almost-five-year-old niece. Making candy was one of our activities for the night. Tessa was very careful to not spill anything when working with the candy molds. It was so sweet to watch.
After a minute, she made up the rule that if she dropped any of the little sugar ball sprinkles on the counter instead of in the molds, she would just eat them. She dropped quite a few after that rule was announced.
I’d forgotten the effects of candy on small children. Sampling the homemade candies made for a late, energy-filled night for the little lady. Following a Tasmanian-devil-run around the house for about 30 minutes, she fell asleep the moment her parents and older sisters returned from the Star Party.
I hope she’ll always remember making candy with Aunt Krysta, and I plan to do it every time she visits. I can’t make homemade chocolate without thinking about wiping off the tell-tale chocolate smeared on her face from sampling the goods.
Today’s the perfect day to make homemade chocolate. You’ll love it.
Quick and Easy Three-Ingredient Chocolate
(Watch out, you’ll be buying candy molds and expanding your recipes in no time)
1/2 cup cocoa powder (or cacao for a healthier chocolate – but cocoa and cacao can be used interchangeably)
1/4 cup coconut oil, at room temperature (soft, not melted)
1/4 cup maple syrup
A pinch of sea salt
Place cocoa powder in a medium bowl. Add coconut oil and maple syrup. Mix ingredients thoroughly with a spatula, pressing the oil and syrup into the powder. Mix well until smooth.
Line a loaf pan or small baking dish with parchment paper. (Note: The larger pan you use, the thinner your chocolate will be – a loaf pan makes a nice bar.)
Pour chocolate mixture onto parchment paper and smooth out evenly. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Place in the freezer for at least 1 hour.
Once your chocolate hardens, cut it into small squares. Store in the freezer until ready to serve. Remember that when coconut oil reaches about 74 degrees, it melts… so that’s why you’ll want to keep these chocolates at least refrigerated, if not frozen until you’re ready to enjoy them.
Printed with permission of the Alpine Avalanche