Valentine’s Day cookies are sure to warm anyone’s heart

February 11, 2021

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I wanted to share some ideas for homemade sweet treats, starting with the cookies in the photo. These are peanut-butter-instead-of-butter cookies iced with a cream cheese frosting and topped with a scattering of sprinkles. I’ll give you some hints about these and then introduce you to refrigerator cookies.

My biggest obstacle to making these cookies was not measuring the peanut butter, but getting it out of the measuring cup. The most common trick is to coat the inside of the measuring cup with nonstick cooking spray. I’ve tried that, but it’s still difficult to get everything out. Instead, I used a spatula to scoop out an approximation of two one-third-cup measures.

Another challenge is getting the dough to a consistency that will allow you to roll it out without creating a permanent peanut butter coating on your work surface. To solve this, I spread the batter onto a large sheet of wax paper and covered it with another. After chilling the dough in the refrigerator for about 90 minutes, I could roll it while it was still between the wax paper sheets.

The final hurdle was moving the heart-shaped cookie cutouts from the wax paper to the cookie sheet. This was solved with a very, very thin metal spatula, kept free of clinging bits of dough. And, although I usually like to use every piece by folding and re-rolling the scraps, in this case, I used the larger ones and left behind the tiny pieces.

As the dough was chilling, it occurred to me these are actually a good example of icebox cookies. Named for the appliance that predated the refrigerator, icebox cookies were the original slice-and-bake dough before Pillsbury introduced the concept commercially. It’s a convenient way to have dessert ready quickly or to bake just a cookie or two at a time.

Most basic butter cookie recipes can become icebox cookies. Just mix the batter and then form it into logs two inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap, twisting the ends to make sure there’s no way for moisture to enter. You can store the dough either in the refrigerator or the freezer.

If you keep the dough in the refrigerator, just unwrap a section and cut off as many cookies as you need. If you keep it in the freezer, where it will last up to three months in freezer bags, allow the dough to defrost for an hour or so in the refrigerator before cutting and baking your cookie rounds.

To avoid cookies that spread out too much, make sure they are placed on a room-temperature baking sheet. You may have noticed when making a large batch of cookies, when you reuse a baking sheet, the second group of cookies isn’t as good as the first. That’s because the butter in the dough starts to melt too soon, creating a too-thin cookie.

As for frosting, I used a standard cream cheese recipe, but you could also go with buttercream, or no frosting at all. You can also add some food coloring to the icing to give it a pinkish hue in honor of Valentine’s Day. Here are two recipes to make sweets for your sweetheart.

Peanut Butter Cookies

2/3 C creamy peanut butter
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 C milk
1 t vanilla
2 C flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder

In a large bowl, cream peanut butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, milk and vanilla. Add the flour, baking soda and baking powder; beat until combined. Spread the dough onto a piece of wax paper and cover with another sheet. Place on a baking sheet and chill in the refrigerator for about 90 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 F. Without removing the wax paper, roll the dough 1/4-inch thick. Cut individual cookies with cookie cutters and place on an ungreased baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until edges are beginning to brown, about 9 minutes. Allow to cool for a minute before removing cookies to a rack to cool completely. Spread with cream cheese frosting. Yield: 1 1/2 dozen.

Cream Cheese Frosting

3 T unsalted butter
4 oz cream cheese
1 1/2 C confectioner’s sugar
1/2 t lemon juice
1/2 t vanilla extract

Make sure the butter and cream cheese are at room temperature. Combine in a bowl and cream until fluffy. Gradually add the sugar, beating to incorporate completely. Stir in lemon juice and vanilla extract.

Icebox Cookies

2 C flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 t cinnamon (optional)
1 C softened butter
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon (if using); set aside. In a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars together until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; beat until incorporated. Add dry ingredients and beat until just combined. Place dough on a piece of plastic wrap and roll into a log 2 inches thick. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 90 minutes. Alternatively, place the logs in a zip-top bag and keep in the freezer for up to 3 months. Allow dough to thaw in the refrigerator for an hour before slicing and baking.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a sharp knife, cut rounds of dough one-half-inch thick and place on prepared pans in a single layer. Bake until set around the edges and lightly golden, about 14 minutes. Yield 2 1/2 dozen.

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