Conversation Heart Sugar Cookies
From Martha Stewart Baking Handbook, page 82
(This is the full recipe--I usually halve it.)
4 sticks (1 pound unsalted butter), room temperature
3 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Colored sanding sugar or sprinkles for decorating (optional)
Royal Icing (recipe follows; optional)
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, vanilla and salt; mix on medium-high speed until combined. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour in two batches, mixing until just incorporated.
2. Turn out the dough onto a clean work surface. Divide in half, and pat into flattened rectangles; wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to a week.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F, with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured Work surface, roll out one rectangle of dough to a scant 1/4-inch thickness. Using cookie cutters, cut out shapes. Using a small offset spatula, transfer shapes to prepared sheets, placing about 2 inches apart. Chill in freezer or refrigerator until firm, about 15 minutes. Set scraps aside. Repeat process with remaining rectangle of dough. Gather all the scraps, and roll out again. Chill 15 minutes; cut out more shapes and place on sheets.
4. Decorate cookies with sanding sugar or sprinkles, if using, before baking. Bake rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are golden around the edges and slightly firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Decorate with royal icing, if using. Top icing with sanding sugar or sprinkles, if using. Cookies can be kept in an airtight container, layered between sheets of waxed or parchment paper, at room temperature for up to 3 days.
(This way makes about 3 dozen for a full recipe. I usually roll mine thinner than 1/4-inch thick, so I get about 6 dozen thin crispy cookies out of a full recipe. I also lower my baking time to 11-13 minutes for thinner cookies.)
Also from Martha Stewart Baking Handbook, page 389
Makes about 2 1/2 cups
(I usually halve this as well if I'm only making a half-batch of cookies)
1 pound (4 cups) confectioners' sugar
5 tablespoons meringue powder
liquid or gel-paste food coloring (optional)
(I usually add in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract as well to give it flavor, but you could add any extract you choose to give it your desired flavor)
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar, meringue powder, and a scant 1/2 cup water on low speed. Beat until mixture is fluffy yet dense, 7 to 8 minutes.
2. To thin the icing for flooding (filling in areas with a thin layer of icing), stir in additional water, 1 teaspoon at a time. Test the consistency by lifting a spoonful of icing and letting it drip back into the bowl; a ribbon should remain on the surface for 5 to 7 seconds.
3. To tint icing, dip a toothpick or wooden skewer into food coloring, and gradually mix it in until the desired shade if reached.
Happy Valentine's Day! It's a day for love, romance, and most importantly, sweet treats! Okay I guess the love part of it is most important, but hey-- I love sweets! That counts right? As with almost all holidays with a theme, I had to make cutout sugar cookies. It's standard for me. I can't not make them. I tried. In the weeks before Valentine's day, I tried a couple different shortbread cookie recipes to change it up a bit this year. I learned after the 2nd recipe that I really don't care for shortbread that much. So I stuck with my tried and true sugar cookie recipe from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook (page 82). (I know, I know. I need to get away from Martha. At least for a little while. So don't worry. The next recipe I have in mind to try has nothing to do with Martha.) I've used this recipe for almost every holiday, birthday, and party I've baked for in the past 3 years. I adore cutout cookies, and have amassed quite a collection of cookie cutters. You name it, I probably have it. So of course, I had to include them in my Valentine's cookie baking even though I've made them so many times before.
I debated how to decorate them, until I was flipping through my February issue of Living magazine (again with Martha! I swear I'll stop soon..) and saw a picture of cookies they had decorated to look like those candy conversation hearts you get at Valentine's day (page 128). I'm not a fan of candy hearts by any means. I find them to be rock hard and too sweet for my taste. But candy heart cookies? That's more my style. They had used an interchangeable-letter stamp and food coloring to print the letters on the cookies. Sounded simple enough to me, so I was off on what proved to be a bit of a Valentine cookie adventure.
Making the cookies themselves went without a hitch. Well. 1 minor hitch. I baked the last batch a minute too long, so they came out a bit more golden than I would have liked. Oh well. My icing went rather smoothly, other than rushing through it to finish in time to get to work. I ended up with a few bumps and bubbles and imperfections, but all-in-all, fairly decent. Now all I had to do was to let them dry and start the fun part of decorating them--the stamps!
The next morning, I made a quick run to Michael's Craft Store to pick up my interchangeable-letter stamp set. And yes.. it was part of the Martha Stewart craft line. It came as two parts. The stamp mount, and the actual stamps themselves. Even with two 40% off coupons which the cashier so graciously let me use even though it was supposed to be one per customer, it set me back almost $15 for both. When I got home, I opened them up and realized I had to do a little prep work. The stamp mount handle had to be glued on with the tiny tube of glue that came with it. Okay. No problem. I cut the tip off the glue and spread a thin layer like it tells me. I press the handle to the mount and hold it for 10 seconds. Great. I go to let go, and I've glued a tiny portion of my finger to the mount too. A little tug and it comes off.. No big deal. I pick up the bottle to put the cap back on, and I apparently was a lot messier with it than I thought, because now I've got my hand stuck to the bottle too! I rip it off my hand, throw it in the drawer, and go to put my scissors away. They won't close. When I cut the tip off, some glue must have squirted out, because my scissors are now glued into an open position. 5 minutes of prying and feeling like I'm going to break the scissors in half before I break the seal and they finally come apart. I now offically hate superglue, and I'm well on my way to being slightly irritated. Now to figure out the stamps.
The only instructions on stamps themselves are, "peel selected stamps off the acrylic sheet. Press stamps onto acrylic stamp mount, smooth side down, in reverse reading order." Guess what. They don't peel off. Well they might--as one full sheet of letters. They don't come off individually. They seem like they're supposed to.. some look slightly perforated. But they don't come apart without cutting them. I assume they are supposed to be reattached to the thick hard plastic backing they're stuck to and not the flimsy thin plastic sheet that lined the back part of the original packaging, so I'm stuck as to how to get the letters from the middle apart from their surrounding counterparts.. I start hacking away at them with a kitchen knife before I decide it was way too time consuming and irritating to continue and thought if they'd stick to the flimsy plastic well enough, then hard plastic be damned, I'm cutting through it. I'm not sure if it's what Martha intended, since she didn't leave clear instructions, just a "bright idea" at the bottom suggesting I store the stamps on the acrylic sheet provided, but it worked well enough and saved about an hour of cursing.. By now I'm horribly irritated and I haven't even started the actual stamping yet!
Getting color onto the stamps and ultimately onto my cookies was a whole new chapter in my Stamp saga. Theoretically you should be using an ink pad with these stamps, but I wanted them to remain edible, so red food coloring was my alternative. The magazine, in its tiny caption, suggested using "a paper towel damp with food coloring." It didn't specify what kind of food coloring. So I dug around in the cupboard and found a box of liquid food coloring that had been hanging out for awhile unused and poured a few drops onto it. The dry paper towel just sucked the food coloring up. It wasn't damp enough to stamp. So I added quite a bit more. Still no good. I then tried a damp paper towel with food coloring on it. Finally damp enough to get the color to stick, but not much. I tested on a piece of paper first to see how it would come out. Barely legible. So I threw some more on there. Still too light. If it wasn't showing up on a white piece of paper, you'd never see it on colored cookies! So apparently liquid food coloring was not the way to go. I grabbed my gel food coloring and smeared a thin layer onto the already saturated paper towel and stuck my stamp down in. Success! It picked up color, and more importantly put it back down in a deep red on my paper! When I tried it on my cookies, it was a little light, but definitely there! I slathered a thicker layer on the paper towel, and it worked almost perfectly. I had to reapply a few times cause it would start to dry out while I was working on cutting out my next phrase, but even after all the drama and hassle, it worked out pretty well. Better than I initally thought, but I'm still not entirely sure it was worth the time and money.
I took both the Conversation Heart Sugar Cookies and the Chocolate Sugar Cookie Bites into work with me on Friday. About 50 cookies in all. By the time I was done with my shortened 4-hour day, there were 3 left. Everyone really seemed to enjoy them, and that made me really happy. With all the drama surrounding these two kinds of Valentine's cookies, I was glad they went over well. They seemed to go over well with my boyfriend who received them as part of his Valentine's present too. So all in all, so much hassle and headache, but seemingly a success. Now how long do I have to recover before the next holiday?
A side note: On the page for the Conversation Heart Cookie idea on Marthastewart.com, they have a helpful hint at the bottom of the page: "We used a Cosco 2000 Plus Custom Stamp Kit (No. 614107), $24.99, from Staples. " I guess Martha had issues with her own stamp set too.