Thursday, February 16, 2012

Valentine's Day Conversation Heart Cookies

When I think of Valentines Day I always think of those little conversation hearts that bombard you at every corner in every CVS, Walmart and Dollar General all throughout the first half of February.  You received them in  elementary school from your classmates, and it was always a big deal what the message written on them was.

You know the ones I'm talking about.  Back in the day they had things like "Love U" printed on them, and as the years have progressed things like "Sexy" and "Text Me" have been added to the candy's vocabulary.  How wholesome.

Well, I was trying to think of something cute and sweet (sweet thought-wise, but more sweet taste-wise) to make for Trey.  And that's when it dawned on me that these would be cute to make into cookies.

I was overly pleased with the end result, but I will say that these little guys took WAY longer to make than I had anticipated.  You have to make the dough, let it chill....make the royal icing, then mix all the different textures and colors....fill and flood the cookies, then let that first layer harden.....pipe the text on, then wait several more hours for all of it to dry.

Whew!  Still want to make them?? :)  I'm not trying to discourage you, but rather give you a heads up that, while these cookies turn out adorable and are so fun, they do require a lot of free time and patience.

Conversation Hearts adapted from Martha Stewart
2 C all purpose flour, sifted, plus more for surface dusting
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 C sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

*Royal Icing recipe below

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl.  Set aside.

In stand mixer, beat sugar and softened butter until light and fluffy, approximately 3 minutes.  (*If your butter isn't softened yet this won't work because the butter will be too hard to combine with the sugar properly.)   With mixer running, add egg and vanilla.  Turn mixer on low and add flour mixture gradually, beating until just combined.  

Divide dough in half.  Flatten each half into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Remove dough from fridge and let stand at room temp for about 10 minutes so that it will be easier to roll out.  Roll out to 1/4 inch thick on floured surface.  Cut out cookies with 2 inch heart shaped cutter.  Place 2 inches apart of parchment lined baking sheet.  Take any leftover scraps, roll out again, and cut out cookies.  Repeat this process with second disk of dough.  Place baking sheet(s) with cookies in freezer for 15 minutes to allow cookies to set up and firm.

Instead of parchment paper I decided to try
out my new baking mat.....ahhhhh (angels singing)!! It
is the best.thing.ever.  Period.  Buy yourself one.  Or two.

Bake cookies 12-14 minutes, rotating once half way through.  *The original recipe calls for 14-16 minutes, but I found this cooked the cookies too much for my liking.  I know they need to be firm, but I like them to still have a bit of softness.*  Adjust to suit your tastes.

Remove from oven and place cookies on wire rack to cool.

2 large egg whites
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
3 C confectioners sugar, sifted

Royal icing can also be make using meringue powder, but I didn't have that on hand so I used egg whites.  If you want to use meringue powder, simply click on the link to Joy of Baking for that recipe.  Also, make sure to sift the powdered sugar!  If you don't the icing will be lumpy.

In bowl of electric mixer, mix egg whites and lemon juice until just combined.  Gradually add powdered sugar until it reached "border consistency" (where it will be thick enough to pipe a border).  I had to add a bit more than 3 cups to get to this point.  It will have reached this point when you drop a small blob of it back down into the bowl of icing and the blob sits on top for a while before melding into the rest of the icing.

The icing may seem too thick, but you need it this way in order to pipe a border that will be stiff enough.

Separate the icing into 4 different plastic containers that have lids.  The largest portion will stay white for the borders and the text.  The other 3 should be smaller amounts that will be colored and used to "flood" the cookies.

You'll need at least one plastic squeeze bottle (which can be found here) and 3 plastic icing/piping bags.  If you don't have icing bags you could definitely use 3 zip loc bags.

The large portion of the royal icing will stay as is.  The other 3 containers should be colored (I prefer gel coloring), and will need to be thinned out a bit with just a very small amount of water.  This will ensure that the consistency is much thinner and that the colored royal icing will spread more easily.  Go ahead and mix these up and thin them out.  If you get the icing too thin simply add in some powdered sugar to thicken it back up.

*Make sure to always, always keep all of your royal icing covered since it will harden and dry out very easily.

Assembling the cookies....
Once the cookies have been cooled it's time to pipe the border.  Fill your plastic squeeze bottle with some of the original white royal icing.  Carefully pipe a border around the edge of the hearts.  You'll want to go slow enough so that the border is thick/high enough to contain the "flood" of colored icing that you'll add later.

I used the squeeze bottle for the border and text because it allows for much more control than an icing bag will.  

Once the border has stiffened up a bit you can flood the cookies.  Simply fill your icing bag with one of the colored icing portions you set aside earlier, snip a very small hole on the end, and carefully pipe some of the icing inside the border of the cookies.  Be careful can always add more icing, but if you add too much it will spill over your border.

Use a toothpick to smooth together the icing and push it towards the border.

Allow the cookies to sit for at least 2-3 hours until the flooded icing has firmed up.  Then add your text as desired.  Get creative!! :)

Down for the count....

Notice that the pups got their own cookie too!

Allow the cookies to sit out overnight to ensure that they have completely dried.  They can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week.  

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