Bake for your valentine

Show your affection this Valentine's Day by treating your loved ones to chocolate cookies.

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies  (photo credit: Courtesy )
Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies
(photo credit: Courtesy )
When I was in grade school, we happily gave our friends Valentine’s Day cards to celebrate the day; but during the following decades I noticed that more and more people have been giving gifts of chocolate for the holiday of love.
Many turn the preparation of Valentine’s Day treats into an elaborate affair, making heart-shaped sweets with intricate piped decorations, for example.
My preference is for simple sweets with perhaps a sprinkling of nuts, grated chocolate or powdered sugar, if a garnish is desirable. When I want homey, easy-to-make treats, my choice is often cookies.
Drop-cookies are the simplest to shape.
They are made by scooping up a little dough with a spoon and pushing it with another spoon onto a baking sheet.
To make 30 of her big chocolate-chocolate chip cookies, Nancy Baggett, author of the just-published Simply Sensational Cookies, uses a pound (450 grams) of chocolate chips and an equal amount of butter. A hint of espresso powder complements the chocolate taste of the dough, which is also flavored with vanilla.
Her “kitchen sink” chocolate chip cookies, which she describes as rich and extravagant, have three kinds of chips – semisweet chocolate, white chocolate and peanut butter chips – in a dough flavored with peanut butter and enhanced with pecans and coconut.
HAND-SHAPED cookies are also easy to prepare. You simply roll pieces of dough into balls and set them on a baking sheet. Although they take a little longer to shape than drop-cookies, Baggett writes that “the reward is more handsome treats... Hand shaping cookies is also fun – especially for kids, who always seem to enjoy getting their hands into and playing with dough.”
Baggett uses this technique for her orange fire-and-spice chocolate shortbreads. These buttery chocolate chip cookies, designed for lovers of spice, have a chocolate-and-cocoa dough flavored with grated orange zest, cinnamon, allspice and cayenne pepper. (See recipe below.) A cookie inspired by the classic combination of chocolate and cherries is Baggett’s dark chocolate cherry cookies with chocolate chunks. For these cookies, which she calls “devastatingly decadent and deeply, intensely chocolaty,” some of the chocolate is melted to flavor the dough and some is chopped into chunks that top each ball of cookie dough. Dried cherries soaked in kirsch (clear cherry brandy) contribute a fruity flavor accent.
Love should be celebrated every day, but a day when you’re “supposed” to eat chocolate is my kind of holiday.
This recipe is from Simply Sensational Cookies.
“These are not your typical understated shortbreads!” writes author Nancy Baggett. “Though they look fairly ordinary, they are deeply chocolaty and slightly exotic tasting, and they provide a tingly little after-burn.
“Most people don’t even notice the cayenne at first – it takes a few seconds to slowly, quietly kick in. If you wish to dial down the temperature, add only the minimum 1⁄4 teaspoon called for; it will add depth and a hint of heat but won’t put off timid tasters. For noticeable fire, use a heavier hand – a scant 1⁄2 teaspoon of cayenne will please more adventuresome eaters... Beware – the heat of cayenne gradually intensifies as the cookies stand for a day or two!” For a parve or vegan version of these one-bowl cookies, you can substitute stick margarine for the butter. Baggett prefers unbleached flour in these cookies, and chocolate chips with 50 to 60 percent cacao. You can use any kind of unsweetened cocoa – natural (non-alkalized) or Dutch process.
You can keep these cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 10 days or freeze them, airtight, for up to 11⁄2 months; let them come to room temperature before serving.
Makes 32 6.5-cm. (21⁄2-inch) cookies
3 cups (500 gr. or 18 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips, divided
3⁄4 cup (170 gr. or 6 ounces) unsalted butter, just slightly softened and cut into chunks
1 cup sugar
6 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
11⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground allspice
Finely grated zest (orange part of the peel) from
1 medium orange
1⁄4 to a scant 1⁄2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper, to taste
2 cups all-purpose white flour
Position a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 180ºC (350ºF). Line several large baking sheets with baking parchment.
Combine 2 cups chocolate chips and the butter in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high power for 1 minute, then stir. If necessary, continue microwaving on medium power, stopping and stirring at 20-second intervals until mostly melted. (Alternatively, melt 2 cups chocolate morsels and the butter in a large saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until partly melted. Immediately remove from heat.) Stir until completely melted and cooled slightly.
Thoroughly stir the sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, allspice, orange zest and cayenne into the melted chocolate mixture.
Thoroughly stir in the flour, then let the dough cool for 5 minutes. If the mixture is dry and crumbly, gradually mix in a little water until the dough holds together. Stir in the remaining 1 cup chocolate chips just until incorporated; excessive stirring can cause them to start melting.
Divide the dough into quarters. Divide each quarter into 8 equal balls, spacing about 6.5 cm. (21⁄2 inches) apart on the baking sheets. Pat down until just flattened.
Bake (on middle rack) one sheet at a time for 9 to 12 minutes, just until the cookies are beginning to feel firm when pressed in the center; be very careful not to overbake.
Transfer to a wire rack; let cool.
This recipe is from my book Chocolate Sensations. Full of morsels of white, milk and dark chocolate, these nutty cookies sweetened with brown sugar are crisp on the edges and moist inside. You can substitute walnuts for the pecans.
The cookies can be kept up to 1 week in an airtight container at room temperature, or they can be frozen.
Makes about 48 cookies
1 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄2 tsp. baking soda
1⁄4 tsp. salt
115 gr. (4 ounces or 1⁄2 cup) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1⁄2 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1⁄4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1⁄2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
3⁄4 cup semisweet real chocolate chips
3⁄4 cup milk chocolate chips
3⁄4 cup white chocolate chips
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350ºF (175ºC). Lightly butter 2 baking sheets. Sift flour, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl.
Cream butter in a medium bowl. Add sugars; beat until smooth and fluffy. Add egg; beat until smooth. Add vanilla; beat until blended. Stir in flour mixture until blended. Stir in nuts and all chocolate chips.
Push batter from a teaspoon with a second teaspoon onto buttered baking sheets, using about 1 Tbsp batter for each cookie and spacing them about 5 cm. (2 inches) apart. Bake about 10 minutes or until browned around edges and nearly set but still soft to touch in center.
Using a metal spatula, carefully transfer cookies to racks; cool completely. Cool baking sheets; clean off any crumbs and butter sheets again. Bake remaining cookies.
Note: If any of the types of chocolate chips is not available, cut 115 grams (4 ounces) of that type of chocolate into tiny cubes.
Dark and Milk Chocolate-Chunk Cookies: Chop 130 grams (41⁄2 ounces) semisweet chocolate and 130 grams (41⁄2 ounces) milk chocolate in chunks and substitute for chocolate pieces.

Faye Levy’s book Chocolate Sensations, also published in Hebrew as Shokolad! by R. Sirkis, won the International Association of Culinary Professionals Award as Best Dessert and Baking Book of 1986.