It's easy enough to do the baking. The message is in the effort the loving cook puts into a Valentine's Day offering, and in the thoughtful concept of the gift.
A heart-shaped butter shortbread cookie could suggest true love, and this recipe comes from a new cookbook with connotations: Big Fat Cookies by Elinor Klivans (Chronicle Books, 2005, $17.95 paperback).
Ms. Klivans, a food writer and former pastry chef, provides basic advice with plenty of practical tips, and features about 50 recipes for cookies that are sometimes large in size, always rich in taste.
The following cookie is made with a buttery shortbread dough with a glaze to complement its heart shape. The ingredients are simple, the dough is fast to mix and easy to roll. The cornstarch that replaces some of the flour in this recipe lowers the gluten content of the dough and makes the cookie specially tender.
The recipe makes nine 4 1/2-inch-long hearts, or thirteen 3 1/3-inch-long cookies, depending on cutter used, baked on one or two baking sheets as needed.
BIG-HEARTED BUTTER SHORTBREAD
(Preparation 20 minutes, baking time 20 minutes each baking sheet)
For the cookies:
2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the powdered sugar glaze:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 to 6 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream
Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Heat the oven to 325 F. Line one baking sheet if making nine cookies, or two baking sheets if making 13 cookies, with parchment paper.
To make the cookies:
Sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, powdered sugar and vanilla until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed during mixing. On low speed, add the flour mixture, mixing until it is incorporated and the dough holds together in large clumps and comes away from the side of the bowl.
Form the dough into a smooth ball. Lightly flour the rolling surface and rolling pin. Roll the dough out to a 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 4 1/2- or 3 1/2-inch-long heart-shaped cutter, cut out the hearts. Use a thin metal spatula to transfer them to the prepared baking sheets, placing them about 1 inch apart. Gather together the dough scraps, roll them, and cut out additional hearts.
Bake one sheet at a time until the edges and bottoms of the cookies are lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then use a wide metal spatula to transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the glaze:
In a small bowl, stir the powdered sugar and vanilla together with enough cream to form a thick, spreadable glaze. Use a thin metal spatula to spread half of each cookie heart with glaze. Let the cookies sit until the glaze is firm.
The cookies can be layered between sheets of wax paper in a tightly covered container and stored at room temperature for up to four days.
Makes nine 4 1/2-inch-long hearts, or 13 3 1/2-inch-long cookies.