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Ah Valentine’s Day. The day when couples come under pressure to prove their romantic love to each other, new couples awkwardly dance around it and single folks celebrate their singleness with inappropriate drinking and binge eating. Oh, and everyone eats excessive amounts of chocolate. It’s just a thing.

So how did we get here? How did this tradition of candy hearts, flowers and anxiety begin? Well, clearly there’s a link to the christian Saint Valentine. That’s where we run into the first hitch. No one’s really clear on whether there was really only one Saint Valentine. It’s possible that there were up to 3 of them. So there’s that.[1]

The most popular story about Saint Valentine is that he was a Roman or Italian priest living during the rule of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius had a theory that unmarried men made better soldiers than those with families, so he forbade young men to marry. Valentine married Christian couples in contravention of this decree and was imprisoned and executed.

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Another popular origin story is that, while imprisoned, Valentine formed some kind of relationship with his jailer’s daughter. Some accounts state that he performed a miracle and restored her sight after she went blind. Others state that their relationship was romantic in nature. The stories agree on one thing – before his execution, Valentine sent the young lady a note signed “from your Valentine.”[2] While it’s unclear whether the stories are about one man or two different Valentines, at least one Valentine was executed on February 14th.

One thing that is clear, however, is that Valentine’s Day falls around the Pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia. What is Lupercalia? It’s pretty much the most epic key party ever. Young women would put their names into a bowl and the young men would draw a name out of the pot. The couple would then go forth and “celebrate” for the duration of the festival, if not longer. It was a fertility festival, so I’ll leave it to your imagination to fill in the blanks. Oh, also, they would sacrifice goats (and possibly dogs), and then go forth into the villages whipping the women and crop fields with the bloody hides to encourage fertility.[3] Apparently the women liked the whipping and would line up for it. Cause who doesn’t want a little goat’s blood spanking to get in the mood?

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So clearly, at some point the Church decided this whole debauchery thing was bad and decided to put an end to it. Towards the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I declared February 14th to be Valentine’s Day and the observance of such was strongly encouraged in place of the more titillating Lupercalia.[4]

So that’s that. Drunken debauchery, goat blood whipping, key parties, martyrdom and “from your Valentine. There’s also this whole thing about birds[5], but that’s just not as exciting.

So now, who’s pumped about Valentine’s Day, huh? Let’s eat some chocolate.

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Homemade Ding Dongs
 
The devil's food cake recipe is adapted from "Cooking" by James Peterson.
Recipe By:
Ingredients
  • Cake:
  • 1 C Cake Flour
  • 1½ tsp Baking Soda
  • ½ tsp Baking Powder
  • ¼ Salt
  • ½ C Butter
  • 1 C Plain Greek Yogurt
  • 6 oz Bittersweet Chocolate, finely chopped
  • ¾ C Sugar
  • 3 large Eggs
  • Filling:
  • 3 large Egg Whites
  • 1¼ C Sugar
  • ¼ tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Corn Syrup
  • 2 tsp Vanilla
  • Ganache:
  • ¾ C Cream
  • 1 Tbsp Butter
  • pinch Salt
  • 6½ oz Bittersweet Chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1½ tsp Vanilla
Instructions
  1. To make the cake:
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and line a 9" square pan with parchment paper.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  4. Combine the butter, yogurt and chocolate in the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water and heat, stirring, until just melted and combined.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until thick and pale yellow. Whisk in the chocolate mixture.
  6. Sift the flour mixture into the liquids, stirring until just combined.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepped pan and cook for about 40 minutes - until the middle of the cake has set and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  8. Remove the cake from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes before turning the cake out onto a wire rack to completely cool. Discard the parchment paper.
  9. To make the filling:
  10. Combine the egg whites, sugar, salt and corn syrup in the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Using a handheld mixer, whip the whites over the simmering water until the whites are warm, the sugar is fully absorbed and the mixture gets thick, almost like marshmallow fluff.
  11. Take the whites off of the heat and add the vanilla. Whip again until the vanilla has been fully incorporated.
  12. To make the ganache:
  13. Add the cream, butter and salt to a sauce pan and bring to a simmer.
  14. Put the chopped chocolate in a bowl and pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the vanilla.
  15. Assembly:
  16. Use a round cookie or biscuit cutter to cut out circles of cake.
  17. Fit a pastry bag (or ziplock baggie) with a piping tip and fill the bag with the filling.
  18. You can fill the cakes in one of two ways: (1) Push the piping tip into the bottom of the cake round and pipe filling directly into the center of the cake, or (2) Slice the top third off of the cake round and dig out a well in the middle of the cake. Pipe the filling into the well and then replace the top third of the cake.
  19. Brush the bottom and sides of the cakes with ganache and let sit, bottom side up, on a wire rack until the ganache has set. Once the ganache has set, turn the cakes over and brush the tops with the ganache. Touch up any areas on the sides that need a little more ganache and let the cakes sit until the ganache has fully set. If your kitchen is warm, you may need to put the cakes in the refrigerator to fully set up.
Notes
You can tell when the sugar has fully absorbed into the egg whites by rubbing a little between your fingers. If it feels at all gritty, then the sugar hasn't fully dissolved.