Gingerbread Valentine’s Day Hearts

By the way, "JAR" are my son's initials. I don't love jars that much.

Gingerbread is a very traditional sweet. Long before the Conquistadors stumbled across chocolate in the New World, Europeans were marking special occasions with sweet-and-spicy gingerbread. In fact, even Shakespeare mentions gingerbread in his play Love’s Labor’s Lost: “Had I but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it for gingerbread,” says Costard. As in so much of Shakespeare, this quote does not mean what we think it means. But it just goes to show you how long we have been eating gingerbread.

I personally love dark and sticky gingerbread cake, with the mysterious note that molasses provides, but I know that not everyone shares my passion. When I was in second grade, my mother made gingerbread for me to bring into school for my birthday celebration and most of the kids were stunned at my deviation from the standard cupcake route. One kid said in horror, “Does this have molasses in it? I hate molasses.” (Okay, kid. Be grateful you didn’t live 100 years ago.) I never made that mistake again.

But almost everyone likes gingerbread cookies, even molasses-hating kids. My preference in gingerbread cookies is for a puffy, chewy cookie as opposed to a thin crispy cookie. I guarantee someone will leave a comment to this post telling me how wrong-headed I am. But there it is. I have found that rolling out and cutting gingerbread cookies into shapes is a fun project to do with your kids. The dough is relatively easy to work with and can be re-rolled many times. For the Super Bowl, for example, the kids helped me make football-shaped gingerbread cookies — we picked gingerbread because the cookies would be the same color as a real football. With the dough left over from the football cookies, I whipped up a batch of heart-shaped gingerbread cookies and had a blast decorating them as a surprise for my family. They turned out so well, I thought I would share them with you, in case you were looking for a fun Valentine’s project.

Although these cookies may not be traditional for Valentine’s Day, they have the benefit of being easy and yummy and a blank slate for your kid’s decorating ideas. Be warned that the dough needs to rest before baking, so plan accordingly. It’s not a bad idea to make the dough by yourself ahead of time and roll it out and cut it into shapes with your kids.

Puffy Gingerbread Hearts
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 TB ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
8 TB unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup molasses
2 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk dry ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer using your paddle attachment. Add eggs one at a time and beat until well combined. Pour in the molasses and vanilla extract. Gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic. Let the dough rest at room temperature for at least two hours. (If you are making the dough more than a few hours ahead of time, refrigerate it, but let it return to room temp before using.)

To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 375. Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface using a well-floured rolling pin. Roll the dough out to between 1/2 inch and 1/4 inch thick. Keep moving the dough around as you roll it out to prevent sticking. Cut the hearts out with cookie cutters — use different sizes for the most fun. Gather the scraps into a ball and roll the dough out again until it is all used.

Carefully transfer the cut-out cookies to a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat liner or parchment paper. If using raisins or small candies for decoration, add them now. Bake for seven minutes for chewy, puffy cookies. Remove quickly to a cooling rack. When the cookies have cooled, decorate with icing to your heart’s content.