I am still convinced that a good, simple, homemade cookie is preferable to all the store-bought cookies one can find. — James Beard

Valentine’s day… the thought (ironically) causes a chill in the hearts of most men.  Fears of ‘getting it wrong’ or disappointing their intended often shut them down, or encourage purchase of the worst desperation gift offered by the local Hallmark store, or, here in LA, the enterprising dude by the freeway exit.

According to the National Retail Federation, Valentine’s Day spending is expected to reach $15.7 billion this year.  But I’m always looking for something that will wow without busting the budget.  Truly, a gift made by your own two hands does mean something special.   Call me sentimental, but I think it’s true.  (“You’re sentimental!”)

I’m a big fan of the hand made valentine, whether it be a card or something sweeter.  Here’s a recipe sure to elicit kisses in return.  It’s classic gingerbread, is fun to make, and sturdy enough for shipping to loved ones.

Gingerbread Cookies

1-1/2 C dark molasses

1 C packed brown sugar

2/3 C cold water

1/3 C shortening

7 C flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground allspice

2 tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. ground cloves

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Royal Icing

Heat oven to 350°.   In a large bowl, mix until smooth: molasses, brown sugar, water and shortening.  Add remaining ingredients (except frosting).

Roll dough about 1/4” to 3/8” thick on a floured board.  Cut out with heart-shaped cookie cutter.  Place on lightly greased cookie sheet – about 1” apart.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.  Cool and decorate with Royal Icing.

Royal Icing

1/4 C meringue powder (or 2 egg whites)

1/2 C water (eliminate if you’re using fresh egg whites)

4-1/2 to 5-1/2 C powdered sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

food coloring

colored sugar

Combine meringue powder and water, whip to soft peaks (if using fresh eggs, just whip to peaks).  Add vanilla, then 4-1/2 C sugar to combine. If icing is too soft, add more sugar, if it gets too stiff, mix in more water by the tablespoon.   Separate into 3 bowls, and add food coloring.

I outlined my cookies with some piped icing, waited a few minutes for it to harden, then filled in the outline with softer, ‘pooling’ icing.  I generally use one or two colors besides the white, and always have sanding sugar (you can make your own!) on hand to add glitz.  Have fun!

A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.  ~Author Unknown