With just a week away from Valentine’s Day, it’s no wonder that is love in the air. But there’s also a faint whiff of something else – panic! Around the world, lovers will be scrambling to figure out what to get their significant other. Buying a mug that says “I love you” isn’t going to cut it anymore. And not everyone can afford high-end jewellery.
So, what do you do? The answer could be something quite simple. Food. Most people would agree that the best way to a person’s heart is through their stomach. It might not sound so romantic but it’s true! So, how about this year you make the effort to learn how to make Heart-Shaped Love Letter Cookies?
If you’re wondering what this is, it’s a sugar cookie that has been cut into heart shapes and embellished with words written in royal icing. The messages that you write on them are personalised for your significant other, making them the perfect treat for this time of the month.
But there’s also another reason why this treat is perfect for Valentine’s Day - it lies in one of two legends of two men named Valentine.
AS THE STORY GOES
The more popular of the two legends is the story of a priest who married off young soldiers in secret during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers, he outlawed marriage. Realising the injustice, Valentine continued to marry young lovers off in secret. Unfortunately, he was eventually found out and put to death. He’s honoured on Valentine’s Day every year because of his courage and devotion to love.
However, it’s the lesser known legend that fascinates me more. It’s also about a man called Valentine, who, according to legend, helped people to escape the harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured. He was eventually caught. During his stint as a prisoner, it was said that he sent out love letters to a young woman that he’d fallen in love with. Before he died, Valentine signed a letter with the words “from your Valentine”, an expression we’ve continued to use until today.
And while we don’t really know which of the two legends are actually true, we do know that people love getting heartfelt messages on Valentine’s Day. And pairing those messages with a heart-shaped cookie – literally – will no doubt make it even sweeter.
Start off with a sugar cookie. This isn’t a common cookie in Malaysia but it’s actually perfect for beginners. It’s simple to put together as you don’t require a mixer and the best part is that you can bake it until it’s crispy, making sure it doesn’t masuk angin (go stale) before you present it to your loved one.
There are many recipes to be found online. If you have a baker that you trust, go ahead and use their recipe. The only thing that you need to do is add to the baking time. Unlike drier countries, our humidity makes cookies turn soft too soon. You need to add an extra 5 to 10 minutes in the oven to get cookies that will last longer.
But don’t keep it at the same heat. Follow the baking instructions and once you’ve reached the suggested time, decrease the heat to 120 degrees C and continue to bake for 5 to 10 minutes. Pull them out if they’re too brown.
Another thing that differs between Malaysia and other countries is the resting time that the dough needs in the fridge. Usually in colder climates, you can just roll out the sugar cookie dough, cut out your hearts and bake them immediately. But because we live in a ‘humidifier’, your dough will require a little more time in the fridge.
This just means that you need to cut your dough into heart shapes, carefully put them on a parchment lined baking tray and place in the fridge for another 15 to 30 minutes. This helps ensure that your cookies look like hearts after you bake them and not end up melted in a puddle.
The last thing that you need to worry about is the royal icing. Some countries have access to pasteurised egg whites, meaning people can make their own royal icing at home. Essentially, they just have to mix the pasteurised egg whites into icing sugar, and voila, there’s the royal icing!
Unfortunately, we can’t do the same thing because we have to use real eggs. So it’s best to stick to “royal icing mix”. It’s a little pricey but at least you can rest assured that your loved ones won’t end up with salmonella from the raw egg whites.
Here’s an added tip. Don’t try and write too much on the cookies. A short phrase will do. Just ensure that it’s personal. You don’t want the cookie to end up looking messy!
125g salted butter, soft
160g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
240g plain flour, and more for rolling.
1 packet of Royal Icing Mix
1.Beat the butter and sugar until pale. Mix in egg yolks and vanilla until fully combined.
2.Mix in the flour until just combined. Don’t over mix the dough.
3.Cover the dough in a plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for 20 minutes.
4.Once cold and firm, roll the dough to a 1/3 cm thickness on the floured surface. Cut into heart shapes and carefully place on a baking paper lined baking sheet.
5.Pre-heart oven to 170 degrees C
6.Chill the heart shaped dough for 30 minutes
7.Bake it for 12 minutes.
8.Decrease the heat to 120 degrees C and continue to bake for 5 minutes. Pull it out if it’s too brown.
9.Allow the cookies to cool completely before decorating and writing with royal icing*
*If you want a layer of colour for the cookie, use royal icing too. Just ensure it dries first before writing on it. An air-conditioned room will speed up the process.