Valentine’s day is next week – so what to produce from a culinary point of view?
Well, one idea would be to consider making this very appropriate puff pastry heart with raspberry and chocolate. An obvious reason (apart from its heart shape) is that it is dead simple and everyone likes it.
Claude Lorrain – artist who painted Psyche outside Cupid’s palace
But if you want to be a bit more academic (albeit inaccurate) about it we could begin by taking a look at the painter (and cook) Claude Lorrain. Born in 1600 he was a French landscape painter who spent most of his time in Italy. He produced some stunning and magnificent paintings including the one at the top of this post depicting Psyche, outside Cupid’s palace.
The story of Cupid and Psyche
The story of Cupid and Psyche is a love story (bear with me, it all becomes relevant in the end). Psyche is the youngest and loveliest of three princesses, so lovely in fact that the citizens cease to worship Venus and focus their attention on Psyche.
Venus isn’t too happy about this, and she sends Cupid to shoot her with one of his arrows so that she falls in love with something hideous. Instead, cack-handedly, Cupid scratches himself with his own arrow and then falls in love with Psyche.
Sensing something is amiss, Psyche’s father, the king, seeks advice from the oracle of Apollo. He’s told that his future son-in-law will not be human, but instead a terrible dragon-like being. Psyche is dressed in funeral clothes, taken to the top of a cliff and left there.
The west wind carries her off and leaves her in a beautiful meadow where she sees a marvellous palace – the scene depicted in Lorrain’s painting. She goes in, is given food and drink, and every night an invisible being visits her bedroom and makes love to her. Soon she’s pregnant. Cupid tells her she must never look at him, or find out who he is.
But the path of true love, etc. To cut a long story short, Psyche’s envious sisters get involved and tempt her into lighting an oil lamp. It gets knocked over and in the process she sees Cupid, injures him, and scratches herself on one of his ubiquitous arrows, thus falling in love with him.
Cupid is spirited away to recover, and Psyche is left wandering forlornly and trying to fulfil a series of impossible tasks imposed by her angry future mother-in-law. She succeeds and the gods bless her marriage to a recovered Cupid, giving her ambrosia to drink and thus making her immortal.
Did Claude Lorrain also invent puff pastry?
Anyway, there is also an unsubstantiated idea that Lorrain was a keen cook as well as a painter. Further to this is the story, which is definitely not true, but delightful, so I will tell it anyway, that in the process of making a kind of layered, buttery bread for his sick father, Lorrain invented puff pastry.
If he didn’t, then who did?
This is definitely not true, as it looks as if puff pastry was invented by the Spanish about fifty years earlier. The first written record of puff pastry appears in Domingo Hernàndez de Maceras’ Libro de Arte de Cozina, which was published in 1607 when Lorrain was about seven!
In any case, this pud is perfect for Valentine’s Day, made just for two; but it also works well for larger numbers. It looks spectacular, and it survives quite well in an airtight container out of the fridge.
For other recipes using Nutella see:
- Sweetmeat lovechild between Ferrero Rochas and Nutella
- Elegant Nutella Cake
- Layered Nutella Squidges – For Boys Back From School
Psyche’s chocolate and raspberry heart
Serves – 10
- 500g/17 oz all butter puff pastry – Dorset pastry is good if you can get it
- 120 ml/½ cup Nutella
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp water
- A little icing sugar (ideally flavoured with vanilla)
- 80 ml/⅓ cup raspberry jam or conserve…. Bonne Maman is a good one, not too sweet and a bit more liquid.
- Defrost the puff pastry. A good way to do this is overnight in the fridge- when you start working it you want it still to be cold. Alternatively allow it to thaw at room temperature for about an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 210°.
- Divide the pastry into two. Line a flat baking tray which is well over a foot/30 cm wide with buttered baking paper (don’t use silicone paper because you may damage it when you cut out the heart shape).
- Roll out, on a floured, ideally stone or marble, surface, one of the pieces of pastry and put onto the baking tray. Spread it with the Nutella. Roll out the second piece of pastry, and put it on top to make a kind of Nutella sandwich. Press down gently to meld together.
- Using a cold, sharp knife (or a pizza wheel), cut the sandwich into a heart shape.
- Then, from the outer edge in, cut strips about an inch/3 cm thick towards, but not reaching the centre. Twist each strip, and press the end down towards the tray so that they are all aligned to make a smoothish heart shape.
- Beat the egg and water together and paint the heart.
- Bake for 20 minutes until golden.
- Sprinkle with icing sugar and drizzle with the raspberry conserve.
- If you serve hot straight from the oven it goes well with vanilla ice cream. You will find people also enjoy picking at it if left out at room temperature. Don’t keep in the fridge, it will go soggy.