The Saturday Paper - - Front Page - ANNIE SMITHERS is the owner and chef of du Fer­mier in Tren­tham, Vic­to­ria.

“For this was on seynt Volan­tynys day Whan eu­ery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

I blame Ge­of­frey Chaucer. It was he that first plucked a per­fectly nor­mal saint’s day out of the dark­ness and sent it into the glare of the pop­u­lar­ist light. Be­fore you knew it, Shake­speare, Donne and Spenser had fol­lowed suit, and by the 18th cen­tury all was lost with a sickly sweet nurs­ery rhyme im­mor­tal­is­ing the words seen in mil­lions of greet­ing cards the world over on Saint Valen­tine’s Day.

Now it’s a day that is seen as a mas­sive rev­enue raiser for the cut flower, greet­ing card and trin­ket sec­tors and a re­ally tricky night for most restau­ra­teurs. A room full of ta­bles of two can some­times be a lit­tle light on the am­bi­ence. And then there is the ques­tion of what to cook for a Valen­tine’s Day menu. Do you go the aphro­disiac? Oys­ters. Or the sul­try? Spiced quail in a rose petal sauce. Or maybe even a clas­sic that is too big for one and there­fore has to be shared. A clas­sic chateaubriand com­plete with chateau pota­toes and a shal­lot and wine sauce.

But there’s one thing to be sure – there re­ally needs to be some­thing heart-shaped that ap­pears some­where on the menu. And my de­fault dish for this? It’s the very lovely coeur à la crème: lit­er­ally, a heart of cream. Tra­di­tion­ally herald­ing from An­jou in France and a very close re­la­tion to crémet d’An­jou, it’s a set cream to be eaten with a fruit purée and fresh fruit. More of­ten than not, that fruit is berries.

There is some­thing about the process of mak­ing coeur à la crème that I find unashamedly ro­man­tic. I faff about mak­ing my own fro­mage blanc, a process that takes milk and cul­ture and, with a bit of heat­ing and wait­ing and strain­ing and hang­ing, you end up with a cul­tured set cream/cheese. This is then sweet­ened and light­ened and set in lit­tle heart-shaped moulds lined with damp muslin.

The joy of the pro­cesses be­comes a sort of food alchemy to get lost in. The ul­tra-fine pat­tern the muslin leaves on the set cream. The lit­tle one-pur­pose-only ce­ramic heart moulds with their per­fo­rated bot­toms. They are all redo­lent of the love I have for the pro­cesses that create a fin­ished prod­uct.

This recipe is a lit­tle less fuss – more like a bach­e­lor’s quick fix for a ro­man­tic dessert. And don’t just pull it out in Fe­bru­ary. It is a de­light to eat any time at all.

Pho­tog­ra­phy: Earl Carter

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