Valentine's Day can't seem to catch a break. In one camp, there's the single, heartbroken and even some coupled folk who write off February 14th as a 'Hallmark holiday' and rebuke the shiny red hearts of chocolates bedecked with bows and scoff at the overpriced flower ads that spam their inboxes. And then there are those who embrace the holiday, calling for reservations weeks in advance, spending money on flowers, chocolates and gifts because, well, how else do you celebrate Valentine's Day with the one you love [or maybe just like a whole lot]?
Despite being unattached, I'm not bitter about Valentine's Day. In fact, I unabashedly love Valentine's Day. Rather than spending tons of money trying to woo over someone or donning black and drowning my sorrows in chocolates and Ryan Gosling [I call that 'Friday night'... I kid! sort of.], I like to do a little something different...
It's no mystery that Valentine's Day can be tough when you're single, even if you're normally happy about it. It can be a challenge to get through an episode of The Office without being inundated with jewelry ads or hearing your Pandora cut out to talk about 'the most romantic time of your life' every other song. Not to mention that a trip to CVS can make you feel like you're suffocated by red cellophane, oversized teddy bears and greeting cards the size of Texas. So, I'm sure you're wondering: if all of this makes people feel rotten, then what's to love about February 14th?
I love Valentine's Day because it's like a giant post-it note on my calendar reminding me to take notice of the people in my life who bring me laughter, give me a kick in the ass when I need it, post snarky videos on my facebook wall when I'm having a rough day and who bring a boatload of joy to my life and to everyone who is lucky enough to know them. I know that commercialism isn't the measure of love and, heck, I'm not a great gift giver anyhow. So, on that heart-filled day in February, I show love the best way that I can: by baking care packages for my single friends, to show them that even though they may not have anyone doting on them this year, it doesn't mean they don't sweeten up the lives of those around them :)
And, after 3 years of sending off baked love, I've learned a few things I'd like to share with you:
1. You don't have to wait until Valentine's Day to show your loved ones you care. My family came the week after, and I made my first creme brulee ever for my sister [it got her stamp of approval which is the highest praise I could ever hope to get. She makes it her mission to knock down my ego, especially with regard to my baking] and raspberry scones for my mom [her favorite].
2. When mailing Valentine's Day items to friends in Canada (like, say, I dunno, chocolate covered chocolate orange oreo hearts), you may want to mail them a few weeks in advance to make sure they get through customs and arrive on time. This is especially important when you want said friends to know how appreciated they are for all the sweet things they do!
3. Last, but certainly not least, don't forget to show yourself some love! As my pal Tom Haverford would say, Treat. Yo. Self. Whether it be sleeping late and making yourself breakfast (heart shaped pancakes with lemon curd mmm) or treating yourself to something sweet and letting someone else do the work (thank you Barbuzzo for your salted caramel budino!), go ahead and thank you for being you!
I hope you all had an amazing Valentine's Day!
Chocolate Covered Chocolate Orange Oreo Hearts [phew! that's a mouthful!] shortbread adapted from Epicurious.com
yield: Makes 10 cream-filled cookies
For the chocolate orange shortbread: ingredients
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/4 cup superfine granulated sugar
- 2 tsp fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
- zest of 1 orange
Blend butter, sugar, orange juice, orange zest and salt in a bowl with a fork until combined well. Sift flour and cocoa into butter mixture and blend with fork just until mixture forms a soft dough.
Divide dough in half and place each half in between two sheets of parchment paper. Roll the dough out to roughly 1/8". Chill dough, uncovered, until firm, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375°F while dough chills.
Meanwhile, prepare the orange cream filling! ingredients
- 1/3 C shortening
- 1/3 C freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1 lb powdered sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla (optional)
- 2 tsp orange zest
In a stand mixer or bowl, combine shortening, salt, orange zest, orange juice and vanilla, if using. Mix on low speed with paddle attachment or handbeaters. As liquid gets incorporated into shortening, gradually increase speed until creamy and combined (if you start off at a high speed, you'll splash water and shortening everywhere--trust me on this one!). Reduce speed to low and gradually add 1/4 of the powdered sugar until incorporated (if you try to add it all at once, or if the mixer speed is too high, you'll have powdered sugar all over your kitchen!). Slowly add the rest of the sugar, working in 4 additions. Taste test. The cream should be spreadable, but not too thin. If the mixture is too thin, you can add more powdered sugar and if it is too stiff, you can add more orange juice or some water.
Now to bake the cookies...
Remove one sheet of dough from the fridge. Use your favorite heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut hearts in the dough and place hearts on cookie sheet. Bake shortbreads in middle of oven until centers are dry to the touch and edges are slightly darker, about 10-12 minutes. Cool on baking sheet on a rack 10 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool.
Once the cookie shells are cool, take one heart, spread it with a layer of orange cream and top with another chocolate orange shortbread heart. How much cream you add is a matter of personal preference, so like any good baker, I would recommend that the first cookie be sacrificed to the greater good for you to determine whether you've added enough cream :) Continue assembling cookie sandwiches until you've used up all the shells.
And now for the best part... the chocolate dipping!
Chocolate is all a matter of personal preference. You could easily coat these little guys in white, milk, dark or bittersweet chocolate. Heck, you could even add a little bit of orange oil (not juice!!--your chocolate will seize and it will be bad news!) to your chocolate to make it even more orangey. Whatever chocolate you're using, simply melt that (in the microwave, over a double boiler, whichever way you prefer), dip your cookies into the chocolate with a fork, extrude and place on a sheet of wax paper to harden. (If it's a warm day, you may want to put the finished cookies in the freezer to harden.) Feel free to top with sprinkles, edible glitter (I've been on a kick lately!) or, as in this case, royal icing hearts. Happy baking!