There are many epic mysteries floating around the universe when you're very young. Why do grown-ups think that by spelling out a word, I'm not going to know what it means? Why does everyone hate politicians? But perhaps the most fascinating question of all for little me was this: How can any adult possibly be unhappy, with all the mail they receive?
Every day I would come home and empty the mailbox and place what seemed to be an enormous stack of envelopes on the table, all addressed to my parents, and sigh with envy. How popular they must be! And even when my dad explained that most of it was junk and bills, some part of me didn't believe that any mail could be a source of stress rather than joy.
The foundation of this misconception was, of course, the Valentine's day ritual where each of us were required to assemble small makeshift mailboxes to place on our desks to house all the wonderful Valentines. Sure, you ended up with an assortment of storebought pieces of cardboard with various pop culture emblems on them, but sometimes people wrote personal notes! And even better than knowing that I was nice, good at math, or shared my lunch with people .... was getting those envelopes with a bulge in them for the candy stuffed in!
So for those of you who appreciated the Valentine sweets as much as I did, below are two Valentine cookie recipes. May everyone get much love -- and much mail!
The recipe for the sugar cookies can be found here -- I simply replaced one of the tsp of vanilla with lemon extract and added the zest of one lemon.
Chocolate-Dipped Espresso Shortbread
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated Cookie magazine
Yields about 4 dozen small heart-shaped cookies
For the cookies:
1/2 lb (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. table salt
10 oz (2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1 TBS espresso powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F and place one rack in the middle of the oven.
1. In a large bowl, place the flour and the espresso powder and combine using a wire whisk. Set aside.
2. Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer), combine the butter, sugar, and salt on low speed until the butter combines with the sugar but isn't perfectly smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add in the vanilla extract and combine briefly.
3. Add the flour and espresso powder mixture to the wet ingredients in 3 parts, stirring until just combined using a wooden spoon -- do not overmix.
4. On a lightly floured surface or a large piece of wax paper, knead the dough once or twice to bring together. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough to be about 1/4-inch thick, turning the dough occasionally to ensure it does not stick to the surface.
5. Use a cookie cutter (lightly floured, if necessary) to cut the dough into shapes and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, ~ 2 inches apart or slightly less, depending on the size of your cutouts. Make sure to use only one sized cutter for one baking sheet full of cookies to ensure even baking.
6. Bake the cookies until golden on the bottom and edges and pale to golden on top, 20-30 minutes to an hour (I did my first check at 10, to rotate the pan -- this may vary for you depending on the oven). These cookies are done when the tops look dry and the color has darkened slightly. Follow the same rolling, cutting, and baking procedure for the rest of the dough and place cookies on racks to cool.
7. Once the cookies have cooled, set a sheet of parchment or waxed paper on a work surface. Put the chocolate and shortening in a small heatproof bowl and set the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Melt the chocolate, stirring, until it's smooth.
8. Dip half of each cookie into the chocolate. Set the cookies on the parchment and let the chocolate set up at room temperature, about 2 hours (do not skimp on this time or you will have a Valentine mess!)