Want to do something extra sweet for your Valentine? Well then, think outside of the box—of chocolates, that is. To really impress that special someone, don your apron, head to the kitchen and prepare something with a little love. But don’t feel intimated if your baking skills are a wee bit sour. Homemade cookies are actually the perfect treat as they’re rather easy to make. Just ask the experts.
“Baking cookies is more forgiving to amateur bakers because most cookies start with the same easy steps: ‘Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy,’” says Cheryl Day, who, along with her husband, owns and operates Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Ga. “Once you master this step, you’re in.”
After that, it’s usually as easy as mixing in your remaining ingredients. And according to Marilyn Walker, owner of Detroit’s Pinky’s Shuga Shack, that’s where all the fun starts.
“You can take a basic sugar cookie recipe and make many varieties of cookies by adding or replacing an ingredient,” she says, offering the example, “You can add lemon flavoring and lemon zest to have a lemon cookie or old fashion rolled oats and raisins to have an oatmeal cookie.”
It’s also at this stage, where you can make the most heartfelt gesture, personalizing your cookies to add in your sweetie’s favorite crushed candies or mix-ins.
But if you still don’t know where to start, then our cookie experts have each shared one of their hit recipes, which may all but guarantee a sweet ending to your Valentine’s Day.
Mexican Hot Chocolate Shortbread from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook
Yields: 2 dozen
1 ¾ Cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ Cup almond flour
½ Pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ Teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ Teaspoon pure almond extract
1 Cup packed light brown sugar
½ Cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
½ Teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ Teaspoon espresso powder or finely ground coffee
½ Teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ Teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ Cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
About ¼ cup granulated sugar for dusting
Cookie stamp (optional)
Line two cookie sheets with parchment.
Whisk the flours together in a medium bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), cream the butter, vanilla and almond extract until the mixture is pale in color, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn the speed down to low, add the brown sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, espresso, salt, and cayenne pepper, and continue to mix until the mixture is smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture in thirds until just combined. With the mixer running, sprinkle in the chocolate chips, mixing until just combined.
Transfer the dough to another bowl and finish mixing by hand to make sure no bits of flour or butter are hiding on the bottom of the bowl and the dough is thoroughly mixed.
Use a small ice cream scoop to form the cookies, about 1 rounded tablespoon each, and place on the prepared cookie sheets, leaving 1 inch between the cookies to allow for spreading.
Flatten each cookie with a cookie stamp dusted with granulated sugar, or gently flatten each cookie with the palm of your hand and then dust the tops with sugar. They will have little cracks in the top. Refrigerate the cookies for at least 1 hour (or up to 5 hours).
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time for even doneness. Cool the cookies completely on wire racks. Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature.
DELUXE COWBOY COOKIES from Pinky’s Shuga Shack
Yields: 4 dozen
1¼ Cup butter, softened
1½ Cup packed brown sugar
½ Cup sugar
2 Large eggs
2 Teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 1/2 Cup all-purpose flour
2 Teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 Cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 Cup chocolate chips
1 Cup flaked coconut
3/4 Cup chopped pecans
¼ Cup candied pineapple (chopped)
¼ Cup raisins
¼ Cup golden raisins
¼ Cup white chocolate bark (chopped)
¼ Cup dried cranberries
¼ Cup chopped walnuts, or any kind of nuts you choose.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt Add to creamed mixture; beat well. Stir in the oats, chocolate chips, coconut, pecans, pineapple, white chocolate bark, cranberries, and chopped walnuts.
Place dough in refrigerator for approx. 10 min. after the 10 minutes. remove from refrigerator.Using a small scoop approx. 3-tablespoon drop onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for about 12 minutes or until browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.
Nina Reeder is a professional journalist, who has worked as senior editor at Upscale magazine and contributed to publications and outlets, such as EBONY magazine, AOL.com, Marriott Hotels, BMWK and more.