Valentine’s Day means cookies. My grown up children still expect fancy heart-shaped cookies decorated with pink icing. Oh dear, this year there’s not enough time for fussy cookie work, but cookies we must have. We’ll consider another favorite— thinly rolled shortbread, cut into heart shapes. These don’t need icing, and a sugar sprinkle before baking will add a touch of glamor.
Shortbread’s the cookie recipe everyone needs to memorize. It takes almost no thinking and with a deft hand is something anyone can manage. So easy—basically three ingredients in the proportion 1, 2, 3: 1 oz. sugar, 2 oz. butter, 3 oz. flour. That’s it! It’s most reliable with a scale, and possible with cups. If you want a touch of vanilla, a dab of seeds scraped from the bean or a few drops of extract will add that extra dimension. Shortbread is best made with salted butter, but if unsalted butter is what’s on hand, add a pinch of fine salt.
Supposedly first made in ancient Rome and popular since Elizabethan times in England, Scotland and Ireland, happily, it’s been passed down to us Americans. Of course we’ve doctored our shortbread with chocolate, ginger, coffee, and other sweet flavors as well as turned it into savories with cayenne, cheese, and rosemary. I still prefer the tried and true plain little cake which never fails to delight—faintly sugary, rich flavor, tender texture. Add shortbread to almost any pudding or ice cream or serve it along with your coffee or tea for a memorable way to bring sweet greetings for Valentine’s Day.
2 oz. sugar (5½ tablespoons)
4 oz. butter (one stick or ½ cup) at cool room temperature
6 oz. all purpose flour (1 scooped cup + 3 tablespoons)
(1/8 teaspoon salt if using unsalted butter)
(seeds scraped from 1 inch vanilla bean or ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract)
Slice the butter into a heavy mixing bowl. Add the sugar, optional salt and vanilla. Cream together until well combined. (It’s not necessary to beat this mixture to the light and fluffy stage.) Add the flour and work to a crumbly mass with the wooden spoon, then use your hand to bring the mixture together into a soft dough. (At this point the dough may be left, covered, at room temperature for an hour or more.)
Roll the dough into a log on the counter. Cut off one third and shape into a flattened patty. On a lightly floured surface use a rolling pin to roll the dough gently back and forth to a desired thickness between 1/4 and 1/8 inch. Cut with a small heart-shaped cutter (or any other cutter). Place the cookies on an ungreased heavy baking sheet and sprinkle each heart with granulated sugar. Scrape up the dough scraps, add another third of the shortbread dough. Gently bring the pieces together, shape the patty, repeat the rolling and cutting. (At this point the cut cookies placed on baking sheets may be covered, chilled and baked a few hours later.)
Bake the cookies at 350° 12–14 minutes or until ever so lightly golden. Remove to a cooling rack while still warm. Store in a tin or an airtight plastic box when cool. Makes 3½ dozen.
Photos: Mary Jo McMillin