Once the holidays ended and we got into the slower part of the year, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my newfound free time. Get my garden up, which we can do early in the year where I live; fix up my house a bit; set up a recipe database; get better at Photoshop; relearn how to ride a bike; and, maybe, if there’s time after everything else, decorate sugar cookies more often.
I haven’t decorated sugar cookies since I made these, for Valentine’s Day last year. I distinctly remember staying up long after my normal bed time, on a weeknight, using toothpicks to manipulate royal icing into hearts, then cleaning mixing bowls and squeeze bottles at midnight. I think I’m up until midnight every time I decorate sugar cookies.
Rationally, I know that when I decorate sugar cookies with royal icing, I should think of it as a day-long project – and that’s assuming that I’ve already made the cookie dough, rolled it out, cut shapes, and baked the cookies. But every time I actually work with royal icing, I wait until the end of the day, because I can’t convince myself that a simple outline and filling of sugar cookies could really take several hours. And then it takes that long, every time.
These hearts, although not any less time-consuming than regular royal icinged sugar cookies, are at least more foolproof. Instead of painstakingly (at least it’s painstaking for me) detailing on top of hardened icing, you use toothpicks to manipulate two liquid royal icing colors. All you have to do is drag a toothpick through a dot to turn it into a heart.
The over-the-topness of tiny hearts set into pink, red, and white icing on top of heart-shaped cookies should not detract from the chocolate cookie itself, which is soft, meltingly tender, and most importantly, intensely chocolately. It was almost worth the loss of several hours of sleep. Still, I’m not sure how often I see myself doing this, no matter how much free time I have.
I reduced the flour slightly from Deb’s original recipe; this increases the chocolate flavor, although it has the potential to lead to more spreading in the oven. But as you can see, the scalloped hearts retained their decorative edge after baking. Still, if you’re working with a delicate shape, freeze the dough until firm after cutting shapes, then bake the cookies directly from the freezer.
2¾ cups (13.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
⅔ cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted to remove lumps
½ teaspoon baking powder
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, and baking powder; set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the butter and salt until creamy, about 1 minute. With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar; beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing to incorporate each one before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low; add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined, with no dry pockets of flour. Shape the dough into a 1-inch thick disk; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.
2. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
3. Lightly flour a large sheet of wax (or parchment) paper. Transfer the chilled dough to the paper and top with a second sheet of wax paper. Roll the dough into ⅛-inch thickness, flouring as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the paper. Use floured cookie cutters to cut shapes; transfer the shapes to the prepared pan. Re-roll and cut shapes from the scraps, using as little flour as possible.
4. Bake the cookies until the tops look dry but are still slightly soft, about 8 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the pan for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.