I take my Valentine’s Day crafts very seriously. In third grade, I spent hours making Valentine’s, painstakingly assigning Mrs. Grossman’s heartstickers to each of my friends’ cards. I believed the stickers inherent beauty wordlessly communicated my deepest emotions. King Henry VIII’s royal court didn't employ such complex social coding.
When my daughter was born, I assumed it was only a matter of months before she too would make her own Valentine’s. I had her pose for her first Valentine card which we then distributed to all interested parties. Call this exploitation, but I saw it more as baby’s debut into the world of (highly) amateur Valentine’s crafting.
When she turned three, I stocked up on doilies and red construction paper. We were going to make the best Valentine’s in all of nursery school. No dopey Dora cards for my little girl! In my ambitious fervor, I failed to realize that my tiny daughter had the attention span of a gnat. Nor did I remember that, with a newborn keeping me up all night, I too had the attention span of a gnat. You can only imagine the outcome. Let’s just say we bought the dopey Dora cards.
Laugh if you must, but don’t fool yourself. This precautionary tale is not solely for the craft-obsessed. We are all guilty of projecting happy childhood memories (or ideas of what we think childhood should be) onto our own kids. In our effort to make things perfect, we often fail to acknowledge what our kids can actually handle–be it an issue of age or personality. We lose sight of who they are.
This year, my daughter has come into her own as a Valentine Crafter. After buying every sparkly heart-shaped product at Michael’s, she and a friend spent the weekend making cards for all of their third grade peers. She carefully affixed rose-covered ribbons to each card, deciding whether or not to sign off with “Sincerely” or “Your Friend.” My son, on the other hand, had the bandwidth to make one card for his favorite friend. Tomorrow, we will pick up a bag of Angry Birds valentine cards for the rest of his class. See? I’m getting smarter.
A similar principle applies to Valentine’s Day baking. Overly ambitious baking projects have led to some of the most infamous meltdowns in literature and history. What led Laura Brown to abandon her family in Michael Cunningham’s novel, The Hours? A failed birthday cake. And didn’t Marie Antoinette’s offhanded comment “Let them eat cake” partially fuel the French Revolution? Those peasant women didn’t have time to make the perfect gateaux. My advice: Better to set the bar low.
That’s why this year, my kids and I are simply making heart-shaped sugar cookies with frosting. To make things a little more interesting, I bought some strawberry-flavored sugar at a specialty spice shop called Spices and Tease. I’m also going to try out do chocolate cut cookies, rather than the ordinary sugar version.
I know sugar cookies seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve discovered a noticeable difference in recipes. The Joy of Cooking’s version is not buttery enough for me. Instead, I prefer a recipe from an old Woman’s Day Easy Cooking & Craft’s Book. For starters, you don’t have to chill the dough –always a good thing when baking with kids. Also, Woman’s Day included instructions for variations ranging from coconut to carrot. They also have one for chocolate orange. Since I’ve got strawberry sugar in the mix, I’m going to try with just chocolate. Pictures and tips are forthcoming.
Adapted from Woman’s Day Easy Holiday Cooking and Crafts
Makes: about 3 dozen (30-inch cookies)
Prep: 30 minutes
Bake: 6-7 minutes (per batch)
2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
3 squares (3 oz) unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. In large bowl with electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and extracts (including melted chocolate) Add flour mixture to butter mixture, 1 cup at a time, mixing after each addition, until blended. Do not chill dough,
2. Divide dough into 2 balls. On a floured surface with floured rolling pin, roll each ball into a circle approximately 12 inches in diameter and 1/8 in ches thick. Dip cookie cutter in flour before each use. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 6 to 7 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned.
3. Cool in pan on wire rack for 2 minutes. Remove to rack to cool completely. Ice with white frosting (I’m going with Duncan Hines this time) and pink sugar.