Valentine Cookies and a Bright Red Scale!

Did you know that Saint Valentine’s Day dates back to Pope Gelasius in 500AD, not the Hallmark Cards of 1910? The original holiday was a religious one, with nothing to do with romance, flowers, chocolate or red royal icing. The modern Valentine’s Day must have been recreated by a pastry chef.  It is an excuse to make sweet, pretty, heart-shaped treats. There really isn’t another time of the year when heart-shaped desserts are permissible. Shame really, but Valentine’s Day owns the shape. So, we must take advantage of the opportunity.

These cookies are not only pretty, but most importantly they are delicious. They are made of a lemon shortbread and decorated with a lemon icing. Often these stylized cookies give way to aesthetics and forget that the flavor still rules supreme. These are both tasty and gorgeous!

As my Valentine’s gift to you I am giving away a Bright Red Baker’s Scale! Just leave me a comment about your favorite Valentine’s Day dessert and I will pick a random winner next week.* Contest Closed!

As you know I am trying to thin out my baking pantry of all the loot various companies send me to test out and review. This scale is one of them. I think it is lovely and it works well, but I have several scales and honestly I prefer digital. This scale by Eat Smart can weigh up to 11-pounds, has a nice big hopper (bowl) and is stylish in a retro way. The down side is that is requires a kitchen that can handle its formidable size. This company also makes a tiny Digital Scale that I really like. If you don’t bake with a scale yet, it is something you should consider. It is the only way to get really consistent results and allows you to bake recipes from the pros like Michelle Gayer.

Lemon Shortbread Cookies – inspired by Sarabeth Levine’s Buttery Shortbread in Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours:

Makes about 2 dozen cookies (depending on the size of your cutters)

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature – I used a European-style butter, which has lower amounts of water and whey. This makes the cookies taste better and have a fantastic crisp texture, but isn’t absolutely necessary.

1/2 cup superfine sugar – this also makes the texture of the cookie, see below to make your own.

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Rind of 1 lemon – see below for directions

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour – measured by stirring flour and then using scoop and sweep method.

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt – I used kosher salt and just added another pinch

Lemon Royal Icing:

1 1/2 tablespoons Meringue Powder

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 pound confectioner’s sugar

1 1/2 ounces lemon juice

Food Coloring Gel

more lemon juice – to thin out the icing when decorating

To make the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Remove the rind, with some of the pith and chop it up into small pieces. Grind it up in a coffee or Spice-and-Nut Grinder.

Until it is in very fine pieces. It should almost be powdery. If there are large chunks the cookies will not hold together when rolled out.

In a food processor grind some regular granulated sugar for about 1 minute and then measure out 1/2 cup of the superfine sugar for your recipe. The rest of the sugar can be saved for anther recipe.

Beat the butter in a stand mixer with the Beater Blade Paddle Attachment on medium-high, until it is smooth. Gradually add the sugar, then vanilla and lemon, mixing until light in color and texture, about 3 minutes. In thirds, add the flour and salt. Mix until the dough comes together and cleans the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.

Knead very lightly until it is a smooth ball.

Use your favorite cookie cutters.

Dust the dough with flour and roll to about  a scant 1/4-inch thick rectangle. The dough does not need to chill first.

You can re-roll the scraps once, beyond that it starts to get tough.

Position the cookies on the prepared cookie sheets. Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden. If you are baking both sheets at once you will want to switch from top to bottom and back to front. Cool on a rack.

Meanwhile make the royal icing:

Combine all the meringue powder, cream of tartar, confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice in a stand mixer. It will be quite thick.

To decorate the cookies follow these instructions.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you!

To enter the Bright Red Scale Giveaway just leave me a comment about your favorite Valentine dessert. *Only open to US citizens, since this thing is a bit heavy to ship. Contest Closed!

For the chocolate lovers, here is a Valentine’s cake for you!