Valentine Cookies

Over the years my family has expected iced, heart-shaped butter cookies for Valentine’s Day. I baked these treats for children’s parties, sent trays to grade school, packed them for college and shipped them to young professionals in distant cities.

This recipe originated from the Joy of Cooking’s Sand Tarts, and  I find it the best tasting, easiest to handle cut-out cookie dough. I’ve tried dozens of sugar cookie recipes, but when it comes to Valentine cookies, I always return to these. The dough rolls like a sheet of fabric. It needs very little dusting flour and lifts easily onto baking trays. It cooks to a golden, delicate crispness and delivers excellent butter cookie flavor laced with pure vanilla and a touch of lemon. There’s no baking powder in the dough, giving the cookies a character reminiscent of sweet, rolled shortbread.

My family insists on iced cookies. The egg-white-brushed surface bakes to a sheen that smoothly takes the frosting. The cookies may also be sprinkled with granulated or colored sugar before baking for a simpler effect. Piped edges, swirls or messages will harden best, using royal icing.

Valentine Cookies

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind* (1/2 lemon)

7 oz. sugar (1 cup )

6 oz. unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks)

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg + 1 egg yolk (reserve white)

10 oz. all-purpose flour (2 cups dipped, leveled)

*If you squeeze juice from lemons that have not been first grated, freeze rinds in a plastic bag. Grate off frozen zest as needed.

Grate lemon rind into mixing bowl. Add sugar and rub with fingertips to flavor sugar. Remove lemon sugar to smaller bowl. Slice butter into mixing bowl and beat until creamy with wooden spoon (if butter is too firm, soften slightly in microwave). Gradually add sugar creaming until fluffy. Blend in salt, vanilla, egg and egg yolk. Beat well. Gradually mix in flour, stirring to combine thoroughly. Use your hand and a rubber scraper for the final blending. Knead dough lightly. Shape dough into block, wrap in plastic and chill several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°. Unwrap chilled dough block and slice into four even segments. Roll one portion at a time, first knocking the dough on both sides with a rolling pin to soften slightly. Using swift back-and-forth rolling motions, continue to roll dough into an even circle 1/8th inch thick. Add bits of dusting flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to counter and pin. Stamp out heart shapes with assorted cutters and lift cookies onto parchment-lined baking sheets.

Fork-whisk reserved egg white in shallow bowl and lightly brush over cut-out cookies. Bake in preheated oven 10–14 minutes depending on size and desired state of browning. Cool on wire racks. Ice when cool.  Makes 30  3 ½-inch hearts plus 12–14 smaller hearts.

Pink Icing

6 oz. powdered sugar (1 ½ cups)

3 tablespoons warm cream or milk

½ teaspoon vanilla

tiny pinch salt

red food coloring

Stir the vanilla, salt and coloring into warm milk or cream before adding to sifted confectioners sugar. Icing needs to be on the thin side to spread smoothly. Allow icing to harden before adding trim.

Royal Icing

4 oz. powdered sugar (1 cup)

1 tablespoon egg white

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Whisk egg white with lemon juice to combine. Add sifted powdered sugar to piping consistency.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at


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