Be My Valentine!
When I first came to the United States…
I received many cards in school saying: Be My Valentine!
I just smiled, and had no clue what this was all about.
It all started with Ginger! Yes ginger, the hornlike, knobby root that was discovered thousands of years ago. The earliest mention can be found in Confucius’ documentation, 551-479 BC. In Sunskrit, an ancient language of India the name for ginger is “srngam-veram,” horn-body, due to its knobby root. Through time this name evolved from Greek to Latin to French and finally it ended in the Modern English language as “ginger.” (Reference: Cupboard Love, by Mark Morton)
Ginger was brought to Europe more than 700 years ago, when the Venetian explorer Marco Polo brought it back from the Far East at the end of the 13th century. It was quickly discovered that when one added ginger to bread dough as a flavoring, it also preserved it from spoilage. Breads remained fresh longer and did not spoil with mold growing on them.
With this new discovery baking became an artistic venture, especially after sugar was introduced by Italian merchants during the 16th century.
Legend tells us that during the Middle-Ages, fair ladies at the courts competed with baking ginger/honey spiced fancy hearts and decorated them lavishly. At the time of the tournament battles these hearts were given to the admired participants expressing the ladies favor and love to the knight she chose.
As a child having lived in a village in Croatia, I remember being taken to the “Kirweih” a summer festival much like the County Fairs we have now, where the villagers cooked and baked for days before, to set out their specialties for the visitors to buy and taste. There were games, and rides and for me as a child a lot of confusion. But, I do remember seeing young couples walking hand in hand with the girl clutching a big cookie heart to her chest and having a big smile on her face.
There were stalls with these hearts of every size, and decorated in all colors, expressing good luck, health, wealth and most importantly LOVE. Now the roles have changed, the young man gives the heart to the girl he loves and admires.
This is my first attempt to decorate cookies in this manner. I have actually made them for my two grandchildren and have mailed them off to arrive by Valentine’s Day.
I did not make the cookies out of gingerbread dough, these are simple vanilla butter cookies that I rolled out to be about a quarter inch thick. After baking them and having given them time to cool, I glazed them with royal icing. I thinned the icing with a little water to make it spreadable using a medium size watercolor brush. I laid them on a rack to drip off and dry. While they were drying I transferred some of the icing into several small glass bowls and added food color to them…one drop at a time and mixed it so I could judge the intensity of the color. It is actually a lot like painting and creating your own colors for your picture. I learned that when working with the food colors I needed to use plastic gloves to protect my hands from becoming multicolored.
It was fun to do and I will have to try again and again to become better at this kind of cookie making. If you have not done this before I would urge you to find Julia Usher’s books on beautiful cookies. She is not only an expert, but is truly an artist. Her cookies are like jewels. She has several books on this kind of cookie decorating, my favorite being: “Cookie Swap” you can get it and all her other books on Amazon.
Maja’s Vanilla Butter Cookies
For this recipe I used the food processor!
Cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
Pre-heat oven to 375 F
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 sticks cold butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 whole large egg + 1 egg yolk
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 tsp brandy
Making the cookie dough….
Place the flour and baking powder into the processor, pulse a couple to times, then add the cold butter into the food processor and pulse a few times again to cut the butter into pea-size clumps.
Add the sugar and again pulse a few times to mix the sugar into the flour and butter.
Take a small bowl and add the egg the yolk, Vanilla Extract and brandy then whisk these three ingredients together until well mixed.
Now add the egg mixture to the flour mixture in the processor, and pulse and run the processor until the mixture forms a dough.
Take the dough out of the processor and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for about 20 to 30 minutes before rolling it out to be about 1/4 inch thick.
I like to roll out small portions of the dough to make it easier to cut out the cookies.
Bake the cookies on a parchment lined cookie sheet at 375 F, until very lightly browned, then cool them on a rack.
This Vanilla Butter Dough can be used for many other pastries, it is a very versatile dough.
1/2 pound confectioner (powdered) sugar
1 egg white
Water for thinning the icing
Use an electric mixer, mix these two ingredients together and beat them until snow white and creamy…do not over-beat, if over beaten the icing will be dry and it will not work well for you.
You can also buy the dry egg-white powder and follow directions for Royal Icing on the box.
For your Valentine’s Tea!
Invite someone special like your mother, grandmother or an aunt……..or,
a special neighbor whom you admire, a teacher whom you had in school……..or,
someone who has cancer and is in chemo-therapy…
Valentine’s Day is for Everyone!
Set a small table with two china cups, two small plates,
teaspoons and dessert forks, a couple of fancy napkins and a pretty cloth.
Some flowers, which you can give to your guest when she leaves,
a platter full of your decorated hearts, some fruit on the side….
and plenty of tea so you can be chatting for a while.
You cannot imagine what joy you will bring to that special person
with whom you spend an afternoon while giving of your time, and kind thoughtfulness.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Copyright: Maria Reisz Springer……..
Unauthorized use, distribution, and/or duplication of proprietary material without prior approval is prohibited. If you have any questions or would like permission, I can be contacted via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org Feel free to quote me, just give credit where credit is due, link to the recipe, and please send people to my website, http://www.majaskitchen.com