Every year before Valentine’s Day, my mother bakes dozens of cookies. She invites friends to frost and decorate them. This is a tradition that began before I was born, and will last long after I graduate from college and head out on my own. For now, I’m happy to be a part of a tasty tradition.
The cookies are orange or lemon sugar cookies. They’re not spectacularly different from most sugar cookies – which is to say, they’re yummy. But during the last 25 years or so, my mother has collected a wide range of cookie cutters that are Valentine’s appropriate. It’s surprising how many different types of hearts there are, from fat or small to hearts with wavy edges or an arrow through them. She also pulls out a variety of stars, flowers, lips and – my favorite – little Scottie dogs.
What do Scottie dogs have to do with Valentine’s Day? Probably not much, in the normal way of things. To me though, the appeal has been constant since I was very young. I loved the ways I could decorate them. A blue dog with a candy heart. A pink dog with a sprinkle sweater.
The decorating was what made this event special. We make a massive amount of buttercream frosting and try different colors. One drop of food coloring for a pale pink, or four drops pink and one blue for purple. We mixed these up and had discussions about whether to do a green or a coral, orange or aqua. In the end, we made five colors to start with and kept making more until the cookies ran out.
Then came the candies. I tend to favor SweeTart hearts, but M&Ms, candy lips, pink candy corns, candy hearts and message hearts have found their way onto the cookies I’ve made. Sprinkles are also a top decorating component, with a surprising number of choices. There are regular colored sprinkles, but also a range of hearts or barnyard animals that add their own interesting flare.
As a child, I would pile candies on for a massive sugar attack cookie. My brother would start building cookies into three-dimensional shapes. We would both steal tastes of frosting and candy until anything we ate tasted funny because of all the sugar. I hate to think of how much sugar-fueled energy my mother must have dealt with while we were in elementary school. Since then, I think I’ve calmed down a bit.
Between the candies and the frosting, none of my cookies ever look the same. Sometimes I do theme cookies: blue with yellow candies for University of Michigan, or green and white for Eastern Michigan University. Sometimes I choose to be more in spirit with Valentine’s Day and stick a candy that reads, “Kiss Me” on a pair of cookie lips.
I’ve never counted how many cookies we frost in one afternoon – enough to share with any friends we might encounter and a few dozen extra, just in case. We go through a dozen colors of frosting and oodles of candies and sprinkles. I love the process: rolling out cookie dough, pulling trays of cookies from the oven, whipping up frosting and decorating for several hours with my mother and some friends. At the end, though, what we have are sugar cookies that are not only sweet and tasty, but look magnificent as well.
Orange Sugar Cookies
1 ½ cups butter
1 cup granulated sugar
Juice and rind of 1 orange, or ¼ cup frozen orange juice concentrate
4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cream together the butter and sugar. Butter should be softened so you don’t leave lumps of butter in the cookie dough, which would melt during baking and leave holes in your cookies.
Stir in orange juice and zest, or orange juice concentrate. Add eggs. Stir until smooth. Sift in flour, baking powder and salt. To avoid getting flour everywhere, don’t add this all at once. I usually add between ½ cup and one cup at a time, and stir it in before adding more flour.
When all the flour has been added and the dough is formed, place in the refrigerator and chill for at least one hour.
Take a part of the chilled dough and roll it out on a floured surface. Leave the rest of the dough in the refrigerator, or it will become too soft to use without sticking and getting scrunched up. Using whatever cookie cutters you choose, start at the edges of the dough. This will maximize the number of cookies you can get out of a single time rolling out dough. If they are sticking at all, you could use a little more flour. This works best when rolling out the dough. If you don’t have any cookie cutters at hand, you can use an upside-down glass to make round cookies.
Place cookies on a baking sheet and bake for approximately 10 minutes or until cookies look pale golden with just a touch of brown at the edges.
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