Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sweets for my Sweets

We have been in San Francisco now for approximately 3 months and so far it really has exceeded my expectations and then some.  The amazing weather, the fantastic food, the new adventures, and we have only just begun to scrape the surface of what this city has to offer.  But I must admit I miss my Chicago family and friends dearly, and these feelings peak quite a bit during the holidays because well, I love to entertain and cook for them. 

But I've decided to not let the 2,000 plus miles between us mean that we can't celebrate together and continue some of the traditions I've grown so much to enjoy!  I am a fan of all holidays, they are a much needed excuse to get together, see family and eat good food.  Like usual I had some grandiose ideas in my head for Valentine's Day, sweets and bright colors muddled my brain for days.  I decided one of the treats in each package would be my go-to sweets, chocolate dipped coconut macaroons.  These things are insanely good and I'm not just saying that because I make them, I've seen people fight over the last one.  The recipe comes from Big Fat Cookies by Elinor Klivans, a seriously awesome cookie cookbook that I got from my D'mom in 2004 for Christmas, if you are looking for a cookie cookbook look no further.

In my head I knew that I also wanted to make something different, something unique, but since we had about 12 packages going out it couldn't be anything too complicated, so I hoped.  After some web scouring I stumbled upon the most perfect idea, homemade conversation hearts!  You know the things, they come in a small box, each candy a small pastel colored heart the size of a dime imprinted with a cheeky phrase like "hug me."  In my head I pictured them much larger than the store bought ones, large enough so that I could write a decent sized note on each one.  So I gathered the ingredients, which mainly consist of pounds of powdered sugar, and set aside a couple hours to get my candy on. 

2 lbs powdered sugar (plus extra for dusting)
1 package of gelatin (unflavored)
1/2 cup water
2 tsp brown rice syrup or agave syrup
desired flavoring (such as mint, almond, or vanilla)

Combine the gelatin, water and syrup until the gelatin completely dissolves, then slowly add in the powdered sugar a cup at a time until a sticky dough forms.  Kneed dough on thoroughly powered work surface.  Add in small amounts of food coloring and flavor and kneed until desired color is achieved.  Roll dough out thinly (mine was about 3/16 inch thick) and cut out shapes using cookie cutters.

The "dough," and I use this term loosely because there is no flour in this "dough" and to be honest, it is the most difficult "dough" I have ever worked with.  What I thought would be an hour or so project turned into 3 plus hours.  The main problem is that the dough is very sticky so you have to "flour" with powdered sugar constantly to keep it from sticking to everything.  I dyed my batches pink, yellow, green, and purple and flavored them with mint. 

Once the dough is rolled out and cut into its desired shape the pieces need to dry overnight.

Then comes the fun part, adding the notes.  You will need edible markers for this part so that you don't poison your loved ones.  The markers I used were not very easy to work with, they had a flexible tip which was designed to work best on frosting, not hard surfaces like these candies.

To finish off the packages I made some shortbread cookie hearts dipped in icing and sprinkled with pink and purple sugar.  These cookies are soft and buttery and luckily easy enough to make because after the 2 days on the conversation hearts I have to admit that my Valentine's mojo was quickly running out.

All in all, I am glad I took the time to make the little bundles of sweets for all of my friends and family, they will ALWAYS be worth it! 

I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine's Day and are able to share it with those you love no matter where they are : )

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