But can't it also be about love for a cookbook? I don't see why not. But not just any cookbook: I'm talking about my abiding love for Betty Crocker's Cooky Book. After all, the relationship I've had with this dog-eared tome far predates the relationship I have with Husband. Which is not to say that I love a book more than I love Husband. It's just that Betty and her cookys and I have a shared history that reaches back well into the 1970s, when Husband was just a Mets-loving tot living three states over.
It seemed natural, therefore, that I turn to Betty for a Valentine's Day cookie recipe. Certainly she would have something Valentine-y and old-fashioned and nostalgic within her pages to help a girl celebrate the holiday of love. And lo, she does. Right there on p. 29, at the beginning of the chapter on holiday cookies, is a recipe for "love letters." I can't recall ever making these cookies as a child -- perhaps the folding and "sealing" of the flaky, buttery dough into little stationery-like shapes was too much work to interest Mom. We should have made them, though, because the "sealing wax" is a candied cherry, and Dad loves cherries. He doesn't love a lot of sweets, but cherries are usually enough to get his attention. Even though Husband has assumed the primary Valentine role, Dad has always been and will always be my Valentine. So this batch of cherry-sealed, citrus-scented love letters is going to him, many decades overdue.
I've given these decidedly old-school cookies a bit of a 21st-century foodie update: dried tart cherries to seal, instead of the old-fashioned bright-red candied ones, which my local grocery apparently only stocks at Christmas; and fancy sanding sugar to sprinkle over the cookies in place of plain sugar. I'm pretty sure Betty Crocker -- in 1963, the year my first-edition Cooky Book was published -- would never have used sanding sugar to finish her cookie. But I have it on hand and it just glistens so prettily. And as for the dried cherry, I'm guessing Dad would prefer the candied variety, as they probably remind him of some dessert his mother made. Oh well. It's the thought that counts when you're thinking of your Valentine.
And what a thought it is. Betty says it best: "Simple, edible, a warm-hearted gift because it is handmade, the cooky is a symbol of our childlike delight in festivals and sociability....Celebrate the religious, the patriotic, or the sentimental dates of the year with the time-honored observance of a special 'something good to eat.'"
See, I'm on to something here, loving a cookbook.
Adapted from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book
Perfect for St. Valentine's Day entertaining, Betty says these cookies are good for engagement parties and bridal showers, too.
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 t. kosher salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
2 t. lemon zest
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 c. sour cream
About 1/2 c. dried or candied cherries
Sanding sugar (or regular sugar), for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit (as Betty says, "very hot"). In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt and whisk to combine. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter, lemon zest and orange zest until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Blend in the sour cream with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula; you'll have to use your hands to gather the dough into a firm ball. Divide the dough in half; set one piece aside.
Roll the dough on a well-floured board into a rectangle that's about 1/8-inch thick (adding more flour as needed). Using a pizza wheel or knife, trim the edges, then cut the dough into 3" x 2" pieces. Fold the ends of each piece in toward the center, overlapping slightly, as if you're folding a letter. Seal with a dried cherry (or a small piece of candied cherry, if using). Place the cookies on a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat the process with the second piece of dough.
Brush the cookies with water; sprinkle with sugar. Bake 8-10 minutes, checking after 8 minutes to make sure they don't burn.
Betty says this recipe makes 4 dozen cookies, but I can only get about 32 per batch.