Just last weekend my husband pointed out the Valentine candy conversation heart display as we entered the supermarket. Candy hearts are, for me, reminiscent of carefree childhood times. Just in case you know nothing about those charmingly nostalgic hearts, I’m enthused to share facts about them that I find interesting.
NECCO, short for, the New England Confectionery Company has made the conversation hearts since 1902 — 111 years. Each year during the sweetheart season the company produces more than 8 billion pieces.
If you’re interested in nutrition, the finished heart is about 90 percent sugar, with only three calories in the small heart, six calories in the larger one, and no fat or sodium.
The hearts have more than 125 different sayings and Walter Marshall, aka “King of Hearts,” is in charge of deciding which sayings will be printed. The old originals like “Be Mine,” “Kiss Me,” have new additions each year. “E Mail Me,” “Awesome,” “Fax Me,” “Be My Icon,” “Web Site,” “Go For It,” “Go Girl,” and “Hello Friend,” are some of the popular new sayings.
If you want to have you own saying printed on the hearts, the company is happy to oblige, when you order 36,000 pounds. Sounds like a novel marriage proposal.
Create your own treats baked from the heart. Buy or prepare a batch of rolled sugar cookies. You can find a recipe for sugar cookies in any basic cookbook. If you don’t own a heart-shaped cookie cutter, make a cardboard heart template. Place the template on the rolled out dough and use a paring knife to cut around the shape.
Then to decorate with your favorite sayings, buy tubes of cake icing and decorate with your creative sayings to your heart’s content.
Or prepare your own decorative icing using this recipe that makes ¾ cup:
Icing — In a small bowl combine 3/4 cup of sifted confectioners sugar with 1 egg white and 1 teaspoon strained lemon juice. Beat until thick and white about 10 minutes. Add an additional 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar and beat until stiff. Tint icing with food coloring, if desired. The downside to preparing your own icing is that you will need a pastry bag with nozzles to pipe the messages with the icing.
Some of the most frequently asked questions about cookie preparation follow.
I found the answers courtesy of the Land O’Lakes Holiday Bakeline. Land O’Lakes, a company that produces butter, has offered advice to a quarter of million bakers since 1990. I also added my advice where I thought it was appropriate. Maybe you’ll find the answer to a question you’ve always had.
What kind of butter or margarine should I use in a cookie recipe? Use only butter or margarine that comes in sticks. Don’t use any whipped, reduced-fat or tub products. These types of products contain additional water, which will affect the finished baked item. Read the label to be sure the butter or margarine contains 80 percent fat. If the percentage is less, it means there is a higher percentage of water.
How do I soften butter? The easiest, but more time consuming method, is to let it warm to room temperature. If you want faster results, a food processor works wonders with a stick of butter. Bakeline suggests placing an unwrapped stick between two sheets of wax paper. Using a rolling pin, give each side of the butter a few whacks to make it pliable but not too soft. Softened butter will have the consistency of raw cookie dough.
Can I substitute shortening for butter? Yes, you can, but you may miss the butter flavor. Both are saturated fats, so my thought is that if you want to indulge in baked goods now and then, you might as well use something that has a pleasing flavor and contributes lightness and flakiness to your finished creation. Additionally, be aware that shortening is usually made from hydrogenated oils. If you choose to use shortening, the Bakeline suggests using only unflavored solid vegetable shortening. Some brands are available in premeasured sticks; others are sold in one-and three-pound tubs and should be measured with graduated dry measuring cups and spoons.
I only have double-acting baking powder in the pantry and I want to make a chocolate cookie that calls for baking soda, too. Can I skip the soda and just increase the powder? No. According to the Bakeline double-acting baking powder and baking soda make cookies rise, but in different ways. Baking powder is an acid; baking soda is a base. Baking soda can be stored indefinitely in a cool, dry place. Baking powder must be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to one year.
I hope these hints and ideas will inspire you to heartfelt creations for the Valentine in your life and I wish you felicitous baking.