Making food for people, especially these Valentine Shortbread Heart Cookies with Blood Orange filling, is an act of love. Mr. Fred Rogers, my truest childhood hero, said, "Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
Love is showing up, on repeat, day after day. It's the things you never knew you'd do. Like spending nights in the NICU next to your newborn's incubator. Or forgiving the hurt of a friend over and over again until you don't remember it anymore, which you hope is soon. Sometimes you are the target of your own love when you allow yourself to let go of guilt, grief, or fear.
"I know the secret of life: If you want to have loving feelings, do loving things."
Messing Up is OK
The wonderous thing about love, is that you will mess it up. That's just part of it.
Just like the verb cooking, loving calls for a lot doing. Trial, practice, mistake-making, and what can feel like wasted time and resources. But your flops are exactly how you learn to love better. The trick is to not give up. Keep practicing. Your acts refine as you practice them. Your acts become who you are. With a little tenacity your love eventually looks more like the soufflé you'd hoped for and less like the dog's breakfast.
Remember all this when you make these pretty little Valentine heart shortbread cookies for your beloveds. Each time you press your pinky into the dough, you imprint the part of yourself that is set on loving. The soft, unchilled dough gives way to make adorable little heart shaped vessels that hold a tad of sweet blood orange goodness you also have made.
As you form the little Valentine hearts, they will remind you of your beloveds. Some, like a crotchety uncle, hide their tenderness in crooked wrinkles. Some, like an emotional 8th grader, absolutely cannot contain their contents. Others are the picture of every-hair-in-place perfection. The likeness of each heart says they belong together on the plate. Their uniquenesses make the plateful interesting. Just like you and your beloveds.
Make a double boiler by simmering 3" deep of water in a large saucepan. In a medium/large stainless steel bowl, whisk together eggs, yolks, and sugar until sugar just starts to dissolve.
Whisk in both juices and zest.
Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water. Cook curd, stirring with a rubber spatula almost constantly, until it begins to thicken. It should have the consistency of loosely whipped cream. Remove from heat.
Stir in butter cubes all at once, stirring until butter is completely melted and fully incorporated. Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove bits of zest and any solid egg proteins.
Chill at 2 hours before using in the cookies. This makes about 1 ¾ cups-- you will only use about ½ cup for the cookies. Store the rest for another purpose.
For the Vanilla Pinkprint Cookie Dough
Line two baking sheets with parchment or non-stick mats.
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and salt on medium-high until light and fluffy, 2 - 3 minutes.
Beat in the egg and vanilla until fully incorporated and fluffy. On low speed, blend in the flour until just incorporated.
Using small scoop, scoop up a bit of dough and roll into a 1" ball with your palms. Place on the baking sheet. Using your pinky, press down near the top of the ball, making an indentation. Make another indentation right next to it. Make a third indentation centered in the hollow just below the first and second indentations to begin making a heart shape in the dough. Use your fingers to elongate the edge at bottom of the ball, and to make a dent in the edge of the top of the ball. Repeat, making fun little heart shapes, each with their own personality, using up the dough. You should have close to 20 hearts on each baking sheet.
Chill dough hearts until they are very firm, at least an hour. This part is critical, or you'll end up with a puddle in the end.
Putting the cookies all together:
Preheat oven to 350°. Bake one sheet for 7 minutes. Working quickly, once again use your pinky to depress the heart shape that has puffed up. It will be hot, so use caution. Using a very small spoon, like a baby or demitasse spoon, fill the depressions with cold blood orange curd. Don't over flow! Place the cookies back in the oven for another 5 - 7 minutes, keeping a close eye. You want them fully cooked and just barely beginning to go golden on the bottom, but not browning on the cookie itself. Allow to cook for two or three minutes on the baking sheet, to set up, them remove to a cooling rack to complete cooling. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, if they last that long.
Make It Your Own:Use store- bought lemon, lime, or raspberry curd instead of making your own. Easier yet, fill them with any red or pink jam.Save time by simply using your thumb to make an indent. No need to make a heart to make these cookies pretty and delish all year long.
You’re in the right place! I’m Pam Spettel, home cooking expert and guide, and I’m here to show you how to break up with cooking and hospitality anxiety, learn how to use recipes as guides rather than strict rules, and let your cooking intuition and confidence soar.
Superpower: Dreaming up recipes that work, serving them to my friends and family, and writing little stories about how cooking them well is the same as loving well.
Inspiration: Ingredients! The fresh, colorful, fragrant, local, seasonal ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest are my creative medium.
Heroes: Local food and wine producers– the people who keep me, my family, and our community nourished and happy.