Sparkling Sugar Hearts

sparkingsugarheartFor some, Valentine’s Day brings the opportunity to go all out with romantic gestures and elaborate plans, while others grumble that it’s a made-up holiday meant to sell cards, candy, and flowers. For me, Valentine’s Day usually means baking something heart-themed, and this time it was a simple batch of sugar cut-out cookies coated in sparkling red sugar for my favorite Maryland girls, Maureen and Margaret.

Sugar cookies are one of my favorite things to bake, though they didn’t used to be. I found them a challenge until I came across a good recipe, the one below, and have adapted them for many a holiday using a range of decorations. I usually top sugar cookies that will ship somewhere in sugar, instead of frosting, for durability. I also find that pressing the cookie into the sugar, rather than sprinkling the sugar on top, provides a more even coating and allows the sugar to stick better.


  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1-2 teaspoons water
  • Red sanding sugar


Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour. If necessary, add 1-2 teaspoons of water for a less crumbly dough; you’ll need a more pliable dough to roll and cut later.

Divide dough in half and knead each just slightly until dough sticks together.  Form each half into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper, then place red sanding sugar on a plate or in a shallow dish.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into heart shapes, then press the tops of each cookie into the sugar to coat. Place on baking sheets about 1-2 inches apart – they don’t spread much when baking, but you don’t want to crowd your baking sheets.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool on cookie sheets for 2-3 minutes before carefully transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days; if shipping, pack between layers of waxed paper. Makes about 4 dozen 3-inch cookies.


Sweetheart Shortbread Cookies

Shortbread, like the sugar cookie, is incredibly versatile. A classic shortbread recipe can be baked in many ways, easily adapted for different holidays and celebrations. This recipe, based on King Arthur Flour’s Essential Shortbread, is one I’ve adapted many times, always with great results.

Today’s adaptation involves both vanilla and almond extracts, as well as valentine sprinkles. They’re on their way to North Carolina for my nephew Roman, as part of his Valentine’s Day gift.


  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 5 ounces flour (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons)
  • Wilton Micro Hearts Sprinkles


Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Add flour and beat to combine; the dough will pull away from the sides of the bowl when it’s ready.

Using a one-inch cookie scoop, scoop generous portions and roll into balls. Place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart and flatten with the bottom of a drinking glass.

Place sprinkles in a shallow bowl and press the tops of each cookie into the sprinkles to coat. Return to baking sheets, placed about 2 inches apart, and bake for 25 minutes, until edges and bottoms are firm and just starting to turn golden.

Cool on baking sheets for about 10 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely. If shipping, pack between layers of waxed paper.

Strawberry Valentine Cookies

Do experienced bakers bake with cake mix? Sometimes, yes. Especially when they want to create pink Valentine’s Day-themed treats for their favorite little girls in Maryland and are running short on time during a busy weekend.

Baking with cake mix cuts down on prep time, and can also be a nice way to introduce baking to beginners. Just add a few ingredients, follow a few simple steps, and you’ll have fun, tasty treats. These strawberry valentine cookies are on their way to my goddaughter Maureen and her little sister Margo, complete with two kinds of valentine sprinkles.


  • 1 box strawberry cake mix*
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Valentine sprinkles

*I used Pillsbury Moist Supreme Strawberry cake mix.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, oil, eggs, and vanilla and stir to completely combine.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto cookie sheets. Top with sprinkles.

Bake for 10 minutes; do not let cookies brown. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for 3 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Valentine Cookies

valentine-cookiesLooking for fun Valentine’s Day cookies for the kids in your life? Look no further. These slice-and-bake treats are a cross between shortbread and a sugar cookie, and can be tinted whatever color you wish. My goddaughter Maureen loves pink, and these are for her and her family.

If you don’t usually do slice-and-bake cookies, I have some suggestions to help with the process. Wrap your dough in plastic wrap, then slide it onto a baking sheet to chill. This will help the log from breaking or getting misshapen as you transfer it in and out of the fridge. Make sure your dough chills for at least two hours so it’s easy to slice; you can let it chill overnight if you like. As you slice, turn the log after every few slices. This keeps a flat edge from developing on one side. And, if you’re coating the cookies in sprinkles or nuts, remember that small sprinkles and finely-chopped nuts will coat the log better and be easier to slice through.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pink (or red) food coloring
  • About half a 3-ounce bottle Wilton Micro Hearts sprinkles


In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla extract and beat until well-combined, scraping the sides of your bowl frequently.

Add flour in three batches, mixing well after each until a soft dough forms.

Add food coloring and tint to your desired shade.

Turn dough onto a very lightly floured surface and knead it slightly to make sure all of the food coloring is well-distributed and the dough is smooth. Roll into a 12-inch log.

Place sprinkles on a rimmed baking sheet and carefully transfer the log onto the sprinkles, rolling it back and forth to coat.

Wrap log in plastic wrap, slide it onto a baking sheet, and chill for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with foil or parchment.

Remove log from fridge and discard plastic wrap. Slice into 1/2 inch slices and place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 9-11 minutes, until tops are set. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for about 4 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Makes 28