Valentine’s Day Re-dux
(aka Infant Sick = Valentine’s Day Postponed)
This post is definitely very delayed but we have been going through a rough patch in our house lately. The past two weeks my son (3 months old) has had a cold, which translates to no one in our house is sleeping except for the 4-year-old. By the middle of the first week we were past bleary-eyed five cups of coffee tired and approaching epic levels of sleep deprivation which culminated over Valentine’s Day weekend for me with flu like symptoms of achey legs, trembling hands and a very sensitive stomach. But no actual sickness ensued, it was just my body’s way of saying – seriously,
you need to sleep – or things are going to get ugly around here.
Needless to say I did not have the energy or ability to do anything super crafty or extravagant for Valentine’s Day. However I did not want to just ignore the holiday either so I did what comes most naturally to me – I baked.
Baking is something I truly love to do because it is creative, time-limited, and in the end you get to eat something delicious. This year I celebrated love by making three different projects for my three most important types of love in my life right now: maternal love, romantic love, and self-love.
And then in writing this post my son’s cold took a turn for the worse and two visits to urgent care later we have learned that the baby has an ear infection and a penicillin allergy. Sigh. At least he is starting to feel better. And now that I have another moment of peace I can finish writing up these projects.
Part One: Maternal Love and Sugar Cookie Hearts
I bake a lot of things for my daughter because with her food allergies it is often hard for her to partake in the shared treats that friends bring to school or have at birthday parties. I never want her to feel left out of celebrations so I try to make sure that if there is a party going on I make something special that I know is safe for her and delicious. Plus, since she can handle butter and milk when it is in baked goods her allergist has said that eating baked products with some dairy in them is a great way to try and help her body get used to dairy and potentially outgrow that allergy (which would still leave peanuts and sesame but it would be an improvement).
This year her class was having a Valentine’s Day party and the teacher listed cookies as something that parents could bring in on their sign up sheet so I jumped at the opportunity to be the cookie mama. Sugar cookies are my daughter’s favorite, next to chocolate chip, and sugar hearts seemed like the most obvious choice for a preschool party and so that is what we did.
I took my recipe from my current favorite baking blog (www.sallysbakingaddiction.com). I think Sally is a genius, every recipe I have tried from her site has been incredibly good. This recipe is adapted from her site. Back around the holidays she posted a cut-out sugar cookie recipe and I followed it exactly, except I did not use almond extract in my cookies since snacks at my daughter’s preschool have to be nut free. I doubled her recipe because I needed to bring two dozen cookies to the party and I wanted to have a few left over for us to keep. In the end we got about 40 cookies out of the recipe using a medium sized cookie cutter.
RECIPE (This is the standard recipe, I doubled it to get 40 cookies)
¾ cup unsalted butter, slightly softened at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg (room temperature)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ cups confectioners sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp corn syrup (optional)
2- 2.5 TBSP room temperature water
a pinch of salt
This is a pretty typical cookie recipe, if you have ever made cookies from scratch there will be no surprises here and if you haven’t, well you should because it’s easy and they taste fantastic!
You beat the butter, and sugar together for a few minutes with an electric mixer until they are well blended and the butter looks light and creamy.
Add in the room temperature egg (yes, it is important to be at room temperature) and the vanilla extract. (If you want to make it fancier you can add ¼ tsp almond extract too, but I did not.)
In a separate bowl you combine the remaining dry ingredients, flour, salt and baking powder, mixing by hand.
Add the dry to the wet and mix them together gently until a nice dough is formed. The dough will be a bit crumbly for this cookie when it is finally combined but the heat of your hands will help it to stick together.
The dough needs to be refrigerated before you cut it out and bake the cookies. Sally recommends rolling the dough into sections and refrigerating it flat on cookie sheets. I did not have the space in my refrigerator for this and was honestly a little distracted by my baby’s screaming at the time so
I broke my dough into thirds and flattened each third into a disc that fit on a dinner plate and then wrapped each disc in parchment, stacked them on the plate and put them in the refrigerator.
The dough has to be refrigerated for at least an hour but I was done with project time for the day so mine wound up being cooled overnight and I rolled it the following afternoon. It was a little stiff to roll the next day but it still only took 2-5 minutes to get each disc rolled to about a ¼ inch thickness so I could start cutting out cookies.
After you cut out the hearts you should put them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment and bake them at 350 for about 8-10 minutes.
This is very important: the cookies will appear a bit under baked when they are done. They should look just slightly golden on the edges and still be very soft – this will ensure that they are nice and chewy in the end. It’s ok because they will continue to cook for a bit while they sit on the sheet out of the oven – this is a cookie baking secret I have learned from Sally, under baking is the way to wind up with nice moist chewy cookies in the end instead of really crispy ones. If you like your cookies crispy then you should leave them in the oven a few more minutes and take them out when they are a light golden color throughout and just starting to turn golden brown on the edges.
Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet for about 5 minutes and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. After they cool you can decorate them.
I followed Sally’s advice for a simple cookie icing made out of water, confectioners sugar, corn syrup and vanilla extract. This was appealing to me because I have all those ingredients in my pantry but I do not typically have things like powdered egg whites or meringue powder, which is what most royal icing recipes require. Sally recommended 2 tablespoons of water for the frosting, but I found I wanted more like 3 or 4 to get the consistency I liked.
Mix all icing ingredients together until desired consistency (I omitted the corn syrup because when I read the instructions more carefully I realized that the corn syrup was only recommended to make the frosting shiny and shiny frosting was not something I needed.)
I wanted frosting that was thick enough to pipe out easily but not so runny that it would run off the cookies. You can check the consistency of your frosting by scooping a bit out of the bowl, letting it dribble back in and timing how long it takes to dissolve back into the rest of the frosting. I had the best luck with frosting that took about 8-10 seconds to dissolve back in, too much thicker and it was hard to spread and too much thinner and it made a mess.
Tips — To make your frosting runnier you can add water —- Thicker add a tiny amount of powdered sugar.
Originally I was going to try and dye the frosting and make fancy designs on the cookies but since these were for my daughter I paused and thought about what she would like best and realized the answer was – SPRINKLES!
My kid goes crazy for sprinkles. So I kept the frosting white and let her pile on sprinkles of her choice. This way all I had to do was fill in the cookies with frosting, I used a squeeze bottle and a spoon to drizzle and spread, you could use a paint brush or a piping bag if you prefer. Less is more with the frosting because it will spread out in a few seconds, so start small.
Decorating with sprinkles is a messy task – kind of like letting your kid use glitter. Somehow sprinkles always get everywhere in my kitchen. However this time I had learned a little from my prior mistakes and I decided to just let my kid dump them on over a plate and then shake the excess out over a bowl. Then, after making the “pretty” ones for her class I used the extras in the sprinkle bowl to decorate the ones for our family. The cookies needed to dry overnight for the frosting to set enough to be stackable for transportation.
As a caveat, I always taste things as I am baking and cooking because I feel that is the only way to really know if a recipe is working out and when I tasted this frosting I was not happy about it. Did you ever buy the candy that was a sugar stick you would lick and dip into sugar when you were a kid? Well this frosting tasted just like that hard sugar stick – which upon reflection is not terribly surprising since it is essentially sugar and water. However, my daughter loved the taste and the cookies were for her so I decided to roll with it. I was all set to just write these cookies off as good for small kids but not really great adult fare but a funny thing happened. After the frosting had dried and I sampled a complete cookie I was really happy with the taste too, either the frosting mellows out a bit as it dries or it just works better with the cookies and the sprinkles, either way these were a success. Kids and adults all loved them.