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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Preparation

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.

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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.

Ingredients

  • 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.

Preparation

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.

Chocolate Hearts

chocolate-heart-cookieI inherited some vintage cookie cutters from my grandma Zella, among them a scallop-edged heart with a red wooden peg handle. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it seemed appropriate to make chocolate hearts to send to my nephew Roman, who now lives in North Carolina.

Cookie cutters come in nearly every shape and size, for every occasion and holiday. My cookie cutters, of which there are dozens, live in a wonderful set of stackable drawer containers in one of my kitchen cabinets. I have all the basics, plus cutters for nearly every holiday, with some animals, dinosaurs, and other fun shapes like an umbrella and a teapot mixed in. Zella’s vintage heart is among my favorites, though.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation 

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

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla extract, beating until well-combined.

Slowly add flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl often and beating until a very well-combined, soft dough forms.

Gently knead the dough a few times to make sure it comes together; roll dough into a ball and flatten into a disc. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; line three baking sheets with parchment or foil.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut with a heart-shaped cookie cutter; if using different sizes of hearts, be sure to bake all of the same size on one cookie sheet. Baking different-sized or differently-shaped cookies on the same sheet can lead to uneven results; some of your cookies might be underdone while others will be overdone.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are set. Remove from oven and cool on cookie sheets for 1-2 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes about 3 dozen, depending on the size of your cookie cutter.

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Preparation

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

Valentine Cake

Valentine CakeWith Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I wanted to whip up a cake for two, something that would be just enough for dessert for Mike and me this weekend. This recipe, which I adapted from Taste of Home, looks like it’ll be the perfect serving size for a few generous slices each.

To frost this lovely cake, I used a pink to red ombré design for Valentine’s Day. I do wish I’d extended the lightest pink down the sides just slightly, so the next time I make a cake like this I’ll definitely do so. Also, this time, I used a crumb layer when frosting; I don’t usually do that, but it seemed like a good idea for this cake. For more info on the importance of the crumb layer, check out this post from the experts at Wilton.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 egg whites*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk

*Reserve your egg yolks and whip up some lemon curd, which could make a tasty filling for this cake and would look great with yellow ombré frosting!

For the vanilla almond buttercream

  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tablespoon almond extract
  • 3-4 teaspoons milk
  • Red liquid and gel food coloring**

**I used red liquid for the light pink layer and red gel for the dark pink and red layers, but you could just use gel for all three.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray two 6-inch round baking pans with baking spray.

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

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg whites, one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in vanilla.

Add flour mixture and milk alternatively, beginning and ending with the flour, until combined. Scrape the sides and bottom of your bowl very well to make sure you get any dry bits.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean; cakes will turn a nice golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately remove from cake pans, cooling completely on a wire rack.

To make the frosting, in a mixing bowl, beat butter for about 1 minute, then add salt and beat another minute.

Add 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar and beat on low speed until all of the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter; this will take a few minutes.

Add vanilla extract and almond extract, beating well to combine. Add milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to reach a fluffy, spreadable consistency.

Divide frosting into four portions; a small portion of white for the filling and crumb layer (or, you could use pale pink for this – I didn’t think of that until after I was done!) then three equal portions for the light pink, dark pink, and red.

Place a small blob of frosting on your cake stand and place the bottom cake layer on it; this will help your cake stay in place during frosting. Spread the top with an even layer of white frosting, then top with second layer and frost with remaining white frosting, creating a crumb layer.

Tint your remaining frosting; I used two drops of red liquid food coloring for my light pink layer, then used red gel for my dark pink and red layers. Mix your color in a little bit at a time; you can always make it darker, but you can’t make it lighter.

Fit three piping bags with large plain tips and fill each bag with a different color. Beginning with the dark red, pipe bands around the bottom 1 1/2 inches of the cake, then continue with the dark pink and finish with the light pink on the top. Using a small offset spatula, smooth out each color band, starting from the light pink and working your way down. The colors will blend into one another, and that’s exactly what you want.

Store at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Strawberry Chocolate Chip Cookies

strawberry chocolate chip cookies

I don’t usually bake with cake mix. I’m not judging you if you do – seriously, we all have different levels of interest in scratch baking, abilities in the kitchen, and demands on our time. Sometimes my friends bake and say, sheepishly, that they used a boxed cookie mix, or refrigerated dough, or a cake mix-based recipe their mom used back in the day. I’m cool with that. Your outcome is far more important than whether you made something from scratch.

These strawberry chocolate chip cookies, which I found over at Sally’s Baking Addiction, use a boxed strawberry cake mix for their base. While I suppose I could have prowled the internet for one that used butter and flour and strawberry puree, I went with the mix version and ended up with some very tasty treats. The strawberry flavor is subtle, but that’s not a bad thing. These fun treats will soon make their way to my goddaughter Mo and her family in Maryland for Valentine’s Day.

Ingredients

  • 1 box strawberry cake mix*
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

*I used Pillsbury Moist Supreme Strawberry cake mix.

Preparation

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

In a large bowl, combine cake mix and baking powder.

In a small bowl, combine oil, eggs, and vanilla; beat to combine, then pour into dry mixture.

Stir very well, until all pockets of dry ingredients are gone, then stir in chocolate chips. I used my hands (messy, but effective) to fully incorporate the chips into the batter.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto prepared baking sheets.

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.

Heart Sugar Cut-Outs

heartEvery baker needs a simple, tasty sugar cut-out in her arsenal. I think of sugar cookies as a perennial treat, good for any occasion or no occasion at all. Cookie cutters are available in so many shapes and sizes, and you can make them as simple or as elaborate as you like. I find that keeping a range of food colorings, both the gel and liquid kind, is very helpful for sugar cut-out decoration.

The recipe below includes simple ingredients that you probably have in your fridge and pantry. It’s a modification of my earlier sugar cut-out post, because when I baked these yesterday I used a lot more vanilla than my original post included and I liked both the texture and the flavor of this dough better.

For the frosting, you can go as simple or as fancy as you wish. I tinted mine pink and red, to keep it simple, but you can add sprinkles or colored sugar or piped elements – whatever your heart desires.

Sugar Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 recipe Zella’s icing, plus red gel and red liquid food coloring

Preparation

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

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed for about 1 minute. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy.

Add egg and 2 teaspoons vanilla, then beat until well-combined.

Add flour mixture in two batches, beating well between each addition.

Add remaining vanilla and beat until dough comes together; it may be a bit crumbly, but that’s okay.

Turn out onto a lightly floured counter top and knead very gently to bring the dough together. Divide in half; shape into balls, then flatten into discs. Refrigerate for about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with foil.

Remove dough from fridge and allow to sit at room temperature for a few minutes.

On a lightly floured counter top, roll dough to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into heart shapes and place on prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 9 minutes, until edges are just golden. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

When cookies are completely cool, prepare icing.

Divide in half; use a few drops of red liquid food coloring for pink icing and red gel for red icing.

Frost cookies as desired; you can add sprinkles, chocolate chips, or piped elements for decoration if you like, but I just left mine plain.

Allow frosting to set before storing cookies; store between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container.