Friday, January 19, 2007

Happy Hearts

These buttery, flaky hearts are just bursting with joy—or so it seems, from looking at them. Extremely light and puffy, they're an easy takeoff on basic pie crust. Amazing how a few simple ingredients—butter, flour, water, salt—can make something so darned tasty!

2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
scant 3/4 teaspoon salt*
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks, 6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes or pats
6 to 7 tablespoons ice water

*If you use salted butter, reduce the salt in the recipe to a heaping 1/4 teaspoon.

Whisk together the flour and salt. Using a mixer, a pastry blender, or your fingers, work the butter into the flour to form uneven crumbs. It's OK for some of the pieces of butter to remain pea-sized, or even slightly larger.

Sprinkle in the water a tablespoon at a time, tossing the flour mixture with a fork or your fingers as you go. When it holds together well—squeeze some in your hand; it'll stick together, without any pieces falling off—add just a couple more teaspoons water, mix well, and divide the dough in half. Flour your work surface, and shape each half into a flattened disk. Roll the edges of the disk along the work surface, as if you were rolling a wheel; this should shape the disk into a hockey-puck-like round. Smoothing the edges like this helps prevent the dreaded cracked edges as you roll. Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or as long as overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment (or use them without parchment, no need to grease). Remove the dough from the refrigerator.

If dough has been refrigerated for just 30 minutes, it should still be soft enough to roll. If it's been chilled longer, you may have to wait up to about 30 minutes for it to soften a bit; you want to be able to roll it easily, without it cracking. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll about 1/8" thick. Use a heart cutter to cut hearts, transferring them to the prepared baking sheets. Gather the dough scraps, re-roll, and cut more cookies. We don't recommend re-rolling more than once, as cookies from the third roll will be pretty tough; but go ahead and do so if you like.

For cinnamon hearts, brush each heart with heavy cream, and sprinkle evenly with cinnamon-sugar. If you're preparing your own cinnamon-sugar, one part ground cinnamon to 12 parts sugar, by volume, is a nice ratio. That would be 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon to every 1/2 cup sugar. For frosted or plain hearts, skip this step.

Bake the cookies for about 20 minutes, till they're puffy and beginning to turn a light, golden brown, top and bottom. Remove them from the oven, and cool on racks, or right on the pans. Yield: about 4 1/2 dozen 2 1/2" hearts.

If you haven't made cinnamon hearts, you may choose to serve these cookies plain, in which case—seeing as they're unsweetened—you'd want to accompany them with pudding or ice cream. The sweetness of the ice cream or pudding, paired with the buttery flakiness of the cookie, is a lovely combination. You may also choose to ice the cookies with your favorite confectioners' sugar glaze, or with chocolate ganache. One cup (6 ounces) chocolate chips melted with 1/2 cup (4 ounces) heavy cream makes a delicious ganache icing, suitable for spreading on cookies and then sprinkling with your favorite Valentine sugar decorations. This amount of ganache is enough to ice all of the cookies in this recipe.

©2006 The King Arthur Flour Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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