When I was a little girl, one of my favorite days of the school year was Valentine's Day. The reason for this wasn't because I had more boys than I could count bringing me flowers and candy (we're talking elementary school here--boys for the most part were still "yucky"). On the morning of Valentine's Day, we would all arrive to class with the empty shoeboxes that we were instructed to bring from home. Inevitably, one student would always forget to bring one and burst into tears, sending the teacher all over the lower school looking for a suitable replacement. Once everyone had their shoebox, we were instructed to cut a small rectangular opening in the top, which usually took me twice as long because of those malfunctioning "lefty" scissors that I had to use. Next, we would don our smocks (a.k.a. dad's old shirt), and using paint, glue, markers, and construction paper, would proceed with making our Valentine's Day card mailboxes, which, thanks to the rule that every child must bring a card for each classmate, would be filled to capacity by the afternoon.
At the end of the day, we would have our Valentine's Party, with punch, cupcakes, candy, and, my personal favorite, heart-shaped sugar cookies. We would sit down at our desks with our stuffed pink and red shoe boxes and our treats, and then we were allowed to read our "mail." Most of the cards were pretty similar, cut outs of Strawberry Shortcake, Star Wars, or Rainbow Bright with a classmate's name scrawled on the back. Some cards, identifiable by their tell-tale bumpy envelope, merited a second glance because this meant that they had a few pieces of candy taped to them. I was one of the few students whose mother suggested make my own cards, so the class usually got something involving a doily, stickers, and glitter. Looking back, because even at that age I was more interested in baking than art, it would have been much easier for me if I had just baked up a batch of these cookies and personalized one for each classmate. No, they probably wouldn't have fit through the slits in the shoe boxes, but I don't think my teacher would have minded, so long as I brought one for her too.
This is a chocolate version of the more traditional vanilla sugar cookie. A combination of cocoa powder and melted chocolate makes that flavor nice and rich. Here are a few tips for making the sweetest heart cookies:
- The cookie dough can be made up to 2 days in advance. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and keep chilled.
- Decorated cookies will keep for up to 4 days. Store at room temperature between sheets of waxed paper in airtight containers.
- If you want to make vanilla sugar cookies instead of, or in addition to, the chocolate ones, use the recipe that I used for Super Bowl Football Cookies. You will also find the recipe for Royal Icing in this post.
- If you don't have a heart-shaped cookie cutter, then either cut out a heart-shaped piece of paper and trace around it, or make the heart shapes freehand with a sharp knife. They don't all need to be the same shape, size, or perfectly symmetrical.
- Cold dough is much easier to work with. If the dough becomes too warm as you are cutting out the cookies, place the dough, waxed paper and all, in the freezer for 5 minutes.
- To make "sandwich hearts" using 2 cookies and jam, cut out 2 hearts of equal size and then cut the center out of one of the hearts to make a heart shaped "window." After the cookies have baked and cooled, spread the flat bottom side of the windowless heart lightly with jam. Cover it with the heart with the window; jam will adhere the hearts. Fill the window with more jam.
- For directions regarding how to decorate using royal icing, refer again to the "Tips" section of the Super Bowl Football Cookies post. Instead of using red and blue colors, use a combination of red, pink, and white. Be creative and decorate the cookies any way that you prefer. The photos that I have included are simply meant to serve as guides or sources of inspiration!
"Be My Valentine" Cookies
Makes 20-25 cookies
2 ½ cups flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
1 ⅓ cups sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Royal Icing (optional, this recipe can be found in the Super Bowl Football Cookies post)
Raspberry jam (optional)
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon together into a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, melt the chocolate over medium-low heat, and stir until smooth; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the sugar and beat until the mixture is pale and fluffy, 2 minutes. Add the egg and beat until well blended. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the vanilla and chocolate. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until well blended. Gather the dough into a ball and divide in half. Form each half into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap the disks separately in plastic and chill until firm, at least 2 hours.
Let the dough stand at room temperature for 20 minutes prior to rolling out. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Working with 1 disk at a time, roll out the dough between 2 sheets of waxed paper to slightly less than ¼ inch thickness. Using heart shaped cookie cutters, cut out cookies of various sizes. Use an offset spatula to peel away the excess dough and transfer the cookies to the parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart. Gather the scraps, roll out the dough, and cut out more cookies, repeating until all of the dough is used. If not icing the cookies, decorate with sprinkles or other toppings, if desired.
Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until they are firm on top and slightly darker around the edges, 9-11 minutes. Cool the cookies completely on a rack and them decorate with royal icing if desired.