LIZ WILLIAMS (this article was first published in January 2013)
Sometimes you know that a project you do with children is successful because they ask to do it again and again. This project began as a way for the children to give out Valentines, but was revisted with other themes time and again. It was coming on Valentine’s Day. I just couldn’t see buying those tired cards that are half cut for children to punch out of their perforations. Drawing and creating your own special cards – before computers had reached the current level – was a coloring and drawing project. If you wanted to give every child a Valentine, it was going to be tedious.
So we decided to bake Valentine’s Day hearts. With a simple sugar cookie recipe (you can even use a refrigerated dough) and a set of heart-shaped cookie cutters, you can get started. The first year we did this, Mark and Eric and I rolled out dough and cut hearts. (In later years we often cut out an inner heart to make large cookies that were hollow in the middle, so that they weren’t really as big as they seemed. That took children old enough to have the dexterity to accomplish this.) We also took a jar filled with granulated sugar and added a few drops of food coloring. The kids took turns shaking the jar, with the lid firmly screwed on. We sprinkled the hearts with red sugar and baked them.
When the cookies were done and cooled, we wrapped them in plastic wrap. We made one cookie for each child. We made 5 cookies for the teacher, which we put in a plastic sandwich bag with a hand written note. Each child also brought extra cookies in another bag for those extras from other classes. We even devised a special note that allowed us to use broken cookies. We wrapped the pieces together and added a note that said, “Don’t break my heart!”
Not only was it fun, but it was successful. The recipients loved their Valentines and the following year began to ask about them in anticipation of Valentine’s Day. It was fun. It works with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, Scout troop friends. You can make it more sophisticated as your children get older. And there are cinnamon drops and other red things that can be used with red sugar to spell names or other words. Just use your imagination.
Simple Sugar Cookie Dough
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, more flour for rolling dough
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks of butter at room temperature
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Place the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk together thoroughly. In a mixer bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Then add the egg. When it is incorporated, add the vanilla. Then slowly add the flour mixture. Take the dough from the mixer bowl and shape into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours. When ready, flour the rolling surface. Roll out to about ¼ inch thick. Cut out the hearts as efficiently as possible. Place the cookies on a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet. Sprinkle with sugar or other decorations. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 13 minutes. The number of cookies will depend on their size. You may recombine and re-roll the scraps.