I always bake heart-shaped cookies to give to family and friends on Valentine’s Day.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize this lovely time shouldn’t just be for sweethearts, but rather for all the special people in our lives. What better way to convey our feelings than to send Valentine cards and homemade cookies?
Maybe it’s because I have a February birthday, but I cannot resist purchasing packets of pretty Valentines as soon as they appear in stores. After all, who doesn’t love discovering a pink envelope in their mailbox on February 14?
One of my mentors, Julia Child, who launched the first Public Television cooking series and set the stage for those of us who would follow, never sent out Christmas cards but was famous for her creative Valentines.
Last year, we invited my 94-year-old mother to stay with us at Swan’s Nest for the winter. In early December, she accompanied us on our 14-hour drive from Dallas to Breckenridge, Colorado. As Valentine’s Day approached, I suggested she help me bake and decorate cookies as a surprise gift for her younger sister. We set aside a day to bake together, and it will always remain a precious memory for us both.
Early that morning, I set butter and eggs aside to come to room temperature and brought flour, sugar, and other ingredients from the pantry. Mom donned the cute gingerbread man apron I had sewn for her as a Christmas gift, and we got to work measuring, mixing, rolling, and cutting cookie dough, baking, and decorating cookies.
As we worked, I was deeply aware of the gift of mother and daughter baking together in my Swan’s Nest studio kitchen. It was warm and fragrant in the kitchen, while outdoors, it was a winter wonderland.
Mom and I baked Valentine’s sugar cookies, decorated with a thin layer of frosting and tinted sprinkles, but it was the Linzer Tarts that captured her heart. These two-layer, heart-shaped vanilla cookies, sandwiched together with strawberry or raspberry jam, are European favorites. A heart-shaped hole in the upper layer offers a window to the sweet jam, and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar provides the finishing touch. Linzer Tarts are a sweetheart of a gift for friends and neighbors when tucked into transparent cellophane sacks tied with red ribbon, and they ship well without crumbling. Happy Valentine’s Day!
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup toasted slivered almonds
½ cup seedless raspberry jam
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven 3 to 5 minutes, or until they are fragrant and light brown. Remove them from the oven, transfer them to a plate, and cool completely. When they are cool, place the almonds in a small food processor or coffee grinder, and process just until they are finely ground.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter with confectioners’ sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 8 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beat well, and stir in vanilla.
In a medium bowl, stir together flour, salt, baking powder, and ground almonds. Stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture to form a soft dough. Cover with plastic wrap and chill 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll out cookie dough on a floured pastry cloth or counter to ¼-inch thickness. Cut with a 3-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter dipped in flour, and place cookies on ungreased cookie sheets. Cut the centers out of half the cookies using a 1-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter.
Bake 6 to 7 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are light brown. Remove them from the oven and transfer them to a wire rack to cool. When the cookies are completely cool, spread the solid ones with raspberry jam, slightly mounding it in the center of each cookie, and top with the remaining cookies. Sift lightly with confectioners’ sugar, which will melt over the jam, leaving a glossy center.
Yield: 22 to 24 cookies