Try as I might, I struggle to really give myself over toValentines Day. Is it because I'm cold hearted, or bitter that the bouquet of fifty (fifty!) red roses landed on someone else's desk at work today? I'm certainly guilty of both these vices at times, but it's the pressure and expectation of the day that I find it hard.
While I would never want to discourage declarations and demonstrations of love, I'd like to think that we can do better that 'organised romance'. A quick trip to Paperchase today unveiled a scene of utter carnage, strewn with tissue paper, pun-filled cards and what felt like the entire male population of London Victoria.
For this writer at least, the tiny, spontaneous gestures mean so much more than the obligatory bouquet on 14th February. To any anxious readers that are not prepared for the big day, fear not. Valentines should be, I think, nothing more than a lovely excuse to remind people how much you love them. And nothing says I love you like fresh home-made toffee filled buns.
Get your dough started tonight, and you can surprise your Valentine with breakfast in bed. You see, I can share off my cynicism for special occasions.
250g strong white bread flour
10g fast-action yeast
20g caster sugar
75ml warm milk
1 tsp cinnamon
3 cox apples, peeled, cored and cubed
75g walnuts, chopped
100g caster sugar
Weigh the flour into a large mixing bowl, then add the yeast to one side of the bowl, and the salt and the sugar to the other. Seperately heat the milk until it is warm through, then add the butter to the milk, stirring to melt. Tip the milk into the flour mix, and crack in the egg. Using your hand, turn the contents to mix, and continue mixing until the mixture is smooth and all the flour has been picked up.
Tip onto an oiled surface, and knead for 10 minutes, until the dough is soft, stretchy and has stopped being sticky. Lightly oil a clean bowl, add the dough and leave to rise (covered with a clean tea towel) for 1-2 hours, or overnight in the fridge if you are making these for breakfast.
While the dough is rising, heat the caster sugar in a pan until it was formed a dark amber caramel. Remove from the heat and add the apples and walnuts, then return from the heat and cook until the apples are soft. Pass through a sieve, keeping the caramel liquid, and set aside.
Once the dough has doubled in size, sprinkle the cinnamon and a little flour onto a work surface, and tip the dough on top. Press inwardly to knock out all of the air, then roll out into a large rectangle. Spoon the drained apple mixture and spread evenly over the dough.
Roll the dough using the long side as your starting point into a tight swiss roll. Chop into 6-8 even pieces, set on a baking tray, and place in a clean bag and allow to rise for 1 hour. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 200C. Once the buns are ready, bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them and if they are colouring too quickly, cover with foil for the remainder of the bake.
When your buns are hot out of the oven, use a pastry brush to glaze them with the apple caramel.