Katie's Craft Corner: Valentine's Day desserts

Valentine’s Day gifts often trend toward the clichéd and the simply disliked – chocolates with the flavors that get picked over, overpriced trinkets and flowers and other grocery store last-minute picks.

One way to beat the Valentine’s Day rut and save a little cash is by baking something simple and yummy and packaging it in a sweet customized box. The best part is, the whole project will only take about an hour.

This project is a great gift idea for both genders, as everyone loves homemade treats and the packaging is entirely customizable. A handmade box of sweets works whether you’ve been dating for three years or just started dating. To expand the gift and make it even more personal, throw in a cute mug and a box of fancy coffee or tea.

These heart-shaped hand pies are a sort of gourmet twist on the Pop-Tart, with just a package of pie dough and a bit of something sweet to put in the middle. If you don’t have any cookie cutters, Target, Meijer and Jo-Ann’s often sell individual ones for $1, including shapes such as circles, cars, shoes, alphabet letters and other non-heart options for the rebels out there.

Premade pie crusts are available at every grocery store in the refrigerated department near the cookie dough and Pillsbury-type products. If you’re a more experienced chef and want to try something fancy, frozen filo dough or puff pastry will make delicate danishes instead of pies.

Some ideas for fillings include Nutella, lemon curd, fruit preserves, fresh berries (mash them up with a little sugar first), chopped toasted pecans mixed with brown sugar and cinnamon, minced apples or almond paste.

For pies, you’ll need:

1 box premade (unbaked) pie crust
Filling of your choice
1 egg, beaten
Powdered sugar for dusting

Thaw pie crust at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 (a toaster oven works great). Unroll dough onto a clean surface. Using a cookie cutter or knife, cut out hearts or other desired shapes.

Filling: Dip your (clean) finger in the beaten egg and run it around the edge of the heart. This will “glue” the pie together. Spoon a small amount of filling into the center of the dough – don’t overfill.
Place second heart on top and use a fork to press the edges together. Use the tip of a knife to make a small slit in the top layer of dough so steam can escape during baking. Repeat for the rest of the pies.

Bake pies for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool before removing them from tray (don’t worry if a bit of filling oozed out, since you’ll be covering them with powdered sugar anyways.) Dust with powdered sugar.

There are lots of options for packaging the pies. You can buy a bakery box at the craft store, or a parchment paper envelope can be made easily by cutting a square and folding in three corners, securing edges with double-stick tape. If you’d like to try making a gift box from heavy paper, there’s a great tutorial from the pros at Martha Stewart Crafts.

Lastly, don’t ever underestimate the power of a beautiful satin ribbon. Even a brown paper lunch bag looks lovely if you cut the top edge in a scallop pattern then punch two holes in the center (about 1 inch apart) and tie a bow through the holes to close. Add a label, fill with homemade baked goods and you have a kitschy, simple gift that will mean more than drugstore candy.

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