Valentine's Conversation Cookies

I have always had pretty awkward feelings about Valentine's Day. Even in grade school when it was practically mandatory to buy those candy card sets and hand them out to everyone. It was nerve racking, and involved a lot of inner dialogue "Should I write something in this card? What if they think I like them? What if they find out I do like them?" It was a very stressful time, and usually ended with me plotting to pretend to forget the cards at home.

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Nowadays though I don't seem to have the same stressors surrounding the holiday that I used too. I mean, don't get me wrong it's still incredibly awkward. There are just far too many feeling involved for it not to be, but I have to admit it is nice having a whole day to spread a bit of love (maybe a few laughs) preferably in the form of some sweets. So in honor of the holiday here are some conversation heart inspired cookies.  

This is my go-to sugar cookie recipe, it keeps it shape and is wonderful for decorating. I have had this recipe since I was in high school, and am pretty sure I got it out of a good house keeping magazine.


Valentine's Conversation Cookies

Serving Size: Around 4 Dozen Cookies


Ingredients:

  • 3 Cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 Cup sugar
  • 2 Large eggs
  • 1 Teaspoon vanilla
  • Royal Icing for decorations

Directions:

In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt set aside. In separate bowl beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, around 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add eggs and vanilla mixing well after each addition. Then mix in the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just blended (I used my hands at the end). Divided the dough and wrap in plastic wrap to refrigerate overnight or use right away.

Preheat oven to 350°F

Roll out dough onto floured surface until around a 1/4 of an inch thick. Cut out into any shapes you like, and bake until edges are golden, 12 to 15 minutes. When cookies cool, prepare Royal Icing recipe and start piping.   

Royal Icing How-To

Christmas cookies have a very special place in my heart. While I was growing up my mom would have christmas cookie decorating parties. These parties were some of my fondest memories. I have no idea how she orchestrated very energetic, high-pitched children into a decorating army, but somehow she did. I took to it quickly, and always enjoyed the decorating part the most, and let my older sister take over rolling out the dough. Now, I have to stress that these weren’t just silly decorations. My mother took pride in coloring her own sugar, and even used food coloring in egg yolks to paint with; she was basically a rock star in the cookie decorating world. I thought egg yolk paints, and colored sugar was a normal decorating activity, but I can assure you it most definitely is not. I was just very lucky, to have such a dedicated and talented mom.


Over the years I have been experimenting with a few different styles of cookie decorating, and this year I wanted to get the hang of royal icing. For whatever reason royal icing has had a spurt of popularity on the interwebs, and because it’s important to to stay relevant, I wanted to give it a go and make sure I can actually decorate with it. I have always considered royal icing as tasty glue, sInce it hardens so well, the only time I have ever used it was for the caulking on gingerbread houses. Decorating cookies, as it turns out, involves a broader range of consistencies, not just the glue kind.

My recipe comes from my mom’s cookbook, but it seems to be widely used. The most important part is to mix the egg whites and sugar slowly. Then once it is smooth you whip it up until it forms stiff peaks. So simple and to the point. This consistency is the one I was used to, it’s perfect for glueing gingerbread houses, or edging the outline of cookies. From there you can add a teaspoon of cream at a time until the icing is thin enough to leave an indent when you run a knife through, but then quickly smoothes out. Everyone has different preferences as to what the right thinness is. So until you find yours just keep adding more cream to thin, or dust with powdered sugar if you want to thicken it back up.

 


Royal Icing

Serving Size: can decorate about 15 cookies


INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 Pasteurized Egg Whites
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 4 Cups Confectioners Sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Put egg whites and vanilla in bowl of standing mixer with whisk attachment, and turn to low.  Slowly add sugar until fully incorporated, and mixture is smooth and shiny. Turn to speed to high and whip until the icing forms stiff peaks this should take around 6-7 minutes. Add food coloring if desired. Transfer to a piping bag and use immediately, or store in an airtight container for up to 3 days. To thin icing add a teaspoon of cream until correct consistency is reached. 

 

 

 

 

Tea Infused Shortbread

There is something so powerful about the smell of cookies baking in an oven. Whenever the urge to bake some strikes, and I get into the repetition of rolling dough out onto sheets, I tend to forget about that first batch in the oven, and the smell always catches me off guard.  It almost feels like I’m in a cartoon watching the smell wafting in front of my face, I close my eyes, breathing in that sweet, molten cookie, aroma as I begin floating through the air towards the oven. This hasn’t actually happened yet, but I like to imagine that there is a chance I could accidentally stumble into a two-dimensional world-- A place where you can defy gravity if you don’t pay attention to the floor going out beneath your feet, or be able to use a brush and a bit of craftsmanship to paint whatever you happen to need at the time: doorways, tunnels, an anvil to drop upon your enemies. (These skills could prove to be quite handy.)

Not that I have many enemies! I like to kill with kindness, a few smiles, and lots of baked goods, which is exactly what this bake is about. There is nothing more joyful than a delicious flower stamped cookie. They give off such a sweet and pleasant feeling, there is no escaping their happiness.  The trick, however, is trying to find a cookie that will showcase a stamp.  In order for the cookie stamps to really work, they need to be stamped on a cookie without too much rise, so they will hold their shape. Shortbread is a great option, but it is incredibly rich. Such a dense cookie doesn’t really pair well with the summer heat. It needs a light and refreshing flavor. Luckily, I was reading Ruby Tandoh’s new cookbook, Crumb, and came across a recipe where she infused the butter with tea before baking with it. I instantly fell in love with the new possibilities of flavor. Can you even imagine? Tea flavored frosting, cakes, scones... The possibilities are seriously endless! The best part is that I have access to a local tea house and can experiment whenever. It’s wonderful how a classic recipe can turn into something completely different with a beautiful stamp and a simple twist on flavor.  


 TEA- INFUSED SHORTBREAD

Serving Size: Makes about 14 cookies


INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 ounces of your favorite loose leaf tea  (I experimented with a white peony, strawberry, and a hibiscus blend. Keep in mind some teas might change the color of your cookie, and some are more potent than others.)

1.) Melt butter and loose leaf tea together in a saucepan over low heat. Let it sit for five minutes over heat before turning it off and letting it sit again for another five. Swirl everything around once in awhile then strain into a container and let it cool down to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes. * make sure you have the right dough consistency; not enough flour, and the cookies won’t hold their flower shape. If there is too much flour the dough will crack as you roll it out.*

I decided on a classic shortbread recipe because it holds the tea flavor so well, but I also found a really great recipe from King Arthur Flour that holds a cookie stamp really well Brown Butter Stamp Recipe. Don't be afraid to try out both, and see which one you like better.

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Roll out the dough and use your cookie stamps to press flower indentations. I have found it helps to dust the stamp with some flour so it doesn’t stick to the dough. Cut around the flowers with a knife, and place them on parchment paper. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Remember to breathe in the aroma, and get lost in a Two-Dimensional daydream. When they cool, offer to friends, enemies, frenemies, anyone who could use a bit of happy in their day.

So tasty, I can't stop eating them!