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on love, etc.

Chocolate-Peppermint Sandwich Cookies_1

Opinions regarding Valentine’s Day fall along quite a wide spectrum. I understand that. The commercialism that proliferates around the holiday is unfortunate, to say the least, as is the fact that it makes people feel sad about their relational status. Those things are no good at all.

But the holiday itself? Well, that I like. And I say this as one who, though now in a lovely, healthy relationship, has spent the majority of her life as a single lady–a happy single lady who celebrated Valentine’s Day with gusto.

When I was small, my family exchanged little gifts on Valentine’s Day, and my sister and I glued hearts onto doilies and covered paper with glitter and engaged in all sorts of similarly crafty endeavors. My mother made heart-shaped sugar cookies that we frosted and decorated in shades of white and pink and purple and red.

In high school, I had few dates, but on Valentine’s Day, it was honestly the least of my concerns (though I can’t say that about every day of the year). My choir sold singing valentines as a fundraiser, and so my day was spent with friends, driving all around town and singing to strangers whose husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, mothers, fathers and friends had sent us their way with a bit of love in the form of music. We drank lots of water and ate heart-shaped snacks, and though I didn’t know it at the time, I was learning that love is more than romance. It was a deeply happy day, even for a perpetually single girl.

Later on, in college, I spent a Valentine’s Day in Spain, where they call it el Día de Amor y Amistad, or the day of love and friendship, and I much preferred that terminology to the one I’d grown up using. In one of my rare romantic Valentine’s Day moments, a friend bought me a rose on behalf of the fellow back home with whom I was corresponding, which was quite lovely and unexpected, but I probably spent the evening itself studying Spanish literature and hanging out with my seventy-two-year-old host mother. Though surely not the activities most commonly associated with the holiday, they were ones I loved.

The next year, one of my dearest friends, whose birthday was on Valentine’s Day, turned twenty-one. Her sister baked cookies in the shape of hearts, frosted generously with pink icing. We ate too many and then congregated with friends at a bar that was, with its lack of fanfare or polished decor, quite opposite of all that is typically associated with Valentine’s Day. We munched on popcorn and drank beer and celebrated friendship, just as I’d learned how to do in Spain. The following year, when I lived off campus with a bunch of fabulous women, those of us who were single or with long-distance boyfriends clustered around a low table in our living room with plates full of food and glasses of wine. I just looked at the pictures: we look so young, and so happy.

My first year out of college, another dear single lady friend and I ate large slices of this cake and drank wine and lacked nothing.

I share all of these memories to once again make the case for celebration–whether your relationship is on or off, whether your love is unrequited or wholeheartedly returned and whether you will spend this Tuesday with one special love or your family or your friends or even alone. Because joy is surprisingly easy to come by if we will only reach for it.

For my part, I gave my parents a jar of citrus salt with a red-and-white ribbon tied around when they visited this weekend. This week, I’ll dine with my someone special on Tuesday, bake something festive and wish lots of love to everyone I see.

And as for you, I suggest that you consider baking these peppermint cookies. I first made them this Christmas, and my oh my, they are delicious. It would be very appropriate to make them in the shape of hearts. I, however, do not currently own a heart-shaped cookie cutter. I have the pretty scalloped one that I used to make the cookies shown here and one shaped like a tiny man, and that is all. Pitiful, I know. So while I go see what I can do about getting my hands on a heart-shaped cookie cutter that I can use to recreate my childhood memories and toss love-in-the-form-of-cookies all around, you should make a batch of cookies.

Happy day of love and friendship, sweet readers.

Chocolate-Peppermint Sandwich Cookies_2

Chocolate-Peppermint Sandwich Cookies_3

Chocolate-Peppermint Sandwich Cookies

Adapted from Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks

For the cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup cocoa powder

1 egg white

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups white whole wheat, whole wheat pastry or all purpose flour

For the peppermint cream filling

2 cups powdered sugar, plus more if needed

15 drops peppermint extract, or to taste

1/4 cup half and half, milk or water, plus more if needed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with the racks positioned in the middle of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a stand or handheld mixer, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and continue mixing, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Fold in the vanilla extract, cocoa powder, egg white and salt, and beat until the cocoa powder is integrated and the batter smooth and creamy. Add the flour and stir until the batter no longer looks dusty, though it may still be quite crumbly.

Place the dough on a floured surface, gather it into a ball and knead it once or twice, until smooth. Divide it into two pieces and flatten each into a 1-inch-thick disk. Put the disks into plastic bags, and place them in the freezer for 20 minutes, until thoroughly chilled.

Remove one disk of dough from the freezer. On a floured work surface, roll it out to a 1/8-inch thickness. Use a cookie cutter to cut out cookies, and place them on the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with any scraps, and then with the remaining circle of dough. Bake the cookies for 7-10 minutes, until the smell of toasty chocolate permeates your kitchen. Remove the pans from the oven, and place the cookies on a wire rack to cool.

For the filling, whisk the powder sugar and half and half, milk or water with a stand mixer, handheld mixer or whisk until fluffy. Add more powdered sugar if it does not seem stiff enough to act as a sturdy filling; add more liquid, a few drops at a time, if it is too thick. Whisk in the peppermint extract, little by little, to taste.

When the cookies are completely cool, assemble the sandwiches by generously slathering peppermint filling on the underside of half of the cookies, topping each one with another cookie.

Yield: about 3 dozen 1 1/2-inch sandwich cookies

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