For as long as I can remember, Valentine’s Day is bittersweet for me. Fifty two years ago, I was a happy, little girl busily preparing for one of my family’s favorite holidays. The kitchen table in our Brooklyn home was a messy festival of red, pink and white paper, heart-shaped lacy dollies of all sizes with scissors and glue for us all to make our family valentines. Each year, Mom made a special “mailbox’ for us to post our anonymous heart-shaped creations only to be opened with excitement at dinner on the big day.
Looking back on the days leading up to Valentine’s Day 1965, all seemed as it should be. Valentines were made and “mailed” while surrounded by happy, festive decorations just like the years before although all was not the same. I have a very clear memory of making a crown with multi-colored hearts for my Dad and wondering aloud if he could wear a crown in the hospital. It seemed like a normal enough question given that I had been told that was where he was and Mom assured me that he would love the crown and would wear it proudly. Of course, as a little girl of six, I didn’t have any understanding of what a hospital was let alone that I would lose my dad just days later. It was the first of many of my before-and-afters.
I like to think that I raised my children with many of the same fun family traditions – birthday parties, gingerbread houses, holiday table games and musically chairs (from my Scottish fore bearers) and yes, valentines galore but none of my efforts could ever match the great – make that heroic – lengths that my Mom went to after my dad died to keep traditions alive and create a home that was as happy as possible.
Mom was a vanilla cookie lover but I like to think she’d think this chocolate version would hit-the spot (one of her favorite expressions). You can find the vanilla version of this cookie along with directions for how to decorate them with royal icing in my book, The Everyday Baker.
Happy Valentine’s Day and remember that Everyday is a great day for baking!
Bittersweet Chocolate Cut Outs
Makes about 40 2 1/2-inch cookies.
For the cookies
1 cup (4 1/2 oz./128 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups (5 oz./142 g) cake flour, sifted
2/3 cup (2 oz.) unsweetened natural cocoa powder, sifted
3/4 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
16 Tbs. (8 oz./227 g) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 oz./248 g) granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 yolk from large egg, at room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Make the cookie dough
- Have ready several sheets of parchment and a cookie sheet. Whisk the all-purpose and cake flours, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl until well blended.
- Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using an electric handheld mixer fitted with wire beaters) and beat on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and continue beating until fluffy and lighter in color, about 2 minutes. Add the egg, yolk and vanilla and beat until blended, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until the dough forms moist clumps.
- Scrape the dough onto the work surface and portion into two approximately equal piles. Put one pile of the dough in the center of a sheet of parchment. Cover with another piece of parchment and press down on the dough to flatten. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough between the parchment to a 1/4-inch (6 mm) thickness, turning, lifting, and repositioning the parchment and lightly flouring throughout the rolling. Slide the dough and parchment onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate. Repeat with more parchment and the remaining dough, stack on top of the other one, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.
Bake the cookies
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheets (four, if you have them) with nonstick liners or parchment.
- Working with one sheet of dough at a time, remove the top piece of parchment. Using a 2 1/2-inch (6 cm) cookie cutter, cut out shapes then arrange them about 2 inches (5 cm) apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Slide the sheets into the refrigerator as they are filled. Stack the scraps and gently press together. Reroll, chill, and cut.
- When the oven is heated, bake, one sheet at a time, until the tops and edges of the cookies look dry, 12 to 16 minutes (too little and the texture will be soft and doughy). Move the sheet to a rack, let cool for about 5 minutes, and then transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough, using cooled cookie sheets and liners and making sure your oven has come back up to temperature.