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Chocolate cookies made with love: Sweet treats for your family

Chocolate cookies made in your own kitchen are the perfect gift for Valentine's Day or anniversaries. They also work wonderfully for wedding showers or a welcome back gift for returning honeymooners. Light but delicious, they bring smiles with every bite.

Chocolate Meringues
Ingredients:
3 egg whites
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Chocolate Glaze (below)

Directions:
1. In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites with vanilla until soft peaks form (tips curl over).

2. Gradually add sugar, beating until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight). Sift cocoa powder over egg white mixture; gently fold cocoa powder into egg white mixture.

3. On cookie sheet covered with brown paper, pipe mixture through pastry bag fitted with large star tip.

4. Bake in a 300 degree F oven for 35-40 minutes. Peel off paper; cool on wire rack.

5. Dip one half of each cookie in Chocolate Glaze. Place on a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet until chocolate hardens. Makes 36.

Chocolate Glaze: In saucepan, melt 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate pieces or three squares (3 ounces) semisweet chocolate and 1 tablespoon shortening.

Stacked Heart Cookies
Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ounces melted unsweetened chocolate
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted
1/2 cup finely ground almonds
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons evaporated milk

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and beat until smooth. Add vanilla and chocolates, beating until smooth. Stir in nuts.

2. In a another bowl sift together next four ingredients. Stir dry mixture alternately with milk into creamed mixture, mixing until a soft dough forms.

3. On a lightly-floured surface. use a floured rolling pin to roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out shapes by using a set of heart cookie cutters in varied sizes or make your own templates out of paper and cut around them with a sharp knife.

4. Transfer cookies to a greased baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

5. Starting with the largest size, stack two of each size cookie together. Tie each stack with a gold ribbon, then wrap in plastic wrap or cellophane. Gather at the top and tie with again with a ribbon and attach a gift tag.

Chocolate Almond Bonbons
Ingredients:
4 ounces sweet baking chocolate
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup margarine or butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (3-1/2 ounce) tube almond paste
Sugar

Directions:
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. In small saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate in milk, stirring occasionally until smooth.

2. In a large bowl, beat 1/4 cup sugar and margarine until light and fluffy. Blend in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in flour and salt;mix well.

3. Using round teaspoonsful of dough, shape into balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Make an indentation in center of each cookie. Fill with scant 1/4 teaspoon almond paste. Press dough around filling to cover.

4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 9-11 minutes or until set. Remove from sheets; roll in sugar. Cool completely. Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Chocolate Shortbread
Ingredients:
1 cup butter
2/3 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
Confectioners sugar

Directions:
1. In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar and vanilla. In another bowl, combine flour, cocoa and salt. Stir flour mixture into butter mixture.

2. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Press dough into a 15x10x1 inch jelly roll pan. Bake 30 minutes.

3. Remove from oven and cut out warm shortbread in pan using a 2 inch wide heart shaped cookie cutter. Remove cookies from pan and cool on wire rack. Sprinkle cookies with confectioners sugar and store in airtight container.

Gift giving notes
Cookies may be given in decorator tins (Victorian designs would be extra special), or decorator cellophane bags. You can also sew very simple tapestry bags and gather the top with a ribbon after inserting a plastic bag with the cookies inside. Wicker baskets lined with antique doilies can be used as well for a beautiful old fashioned look. Use gold wire-edged ribbons for the bows to add that elegant look, or silk ribbon in elegant colors will also work well.

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