Natural Confections

by Carly Gelfond

Let’s be honest: pretty much all holidays are better when you’re a kid. Really, think about it. Halloween: enough said. Hanukkah and Christmas: truly holidays in which children reign, their stacks of presents littering the carpet, with no obligation to reciprocate since the little rascals have no money (and probably wouldn’t spend it on you even if they did.)

Then there’s Thanksgiving: parents slave over a hot elaborate meal, clean the house, and entertain for hours. Then it’s all over, the meal is gone, and the house is dirtier than before. Meanwhile, the kids have spent the evening horsing around with the cousins, then sitting briefly at the table eating a meal of mostly potatoes before scurrying below deck to tie everyone else’s shoes together (or, uh, maybe that was just me.) Easter and Passover both include child-centric activities, in the form of egg and afikomen hunts. For July 4, there are carnivals and on New Year’s Eve every kid looks forward to staying up past his bedtime (the time parents cherish as the child-less hours of the day.)

And now let’s talk about Valentine’s Day, since it’s right around the corner after all. This one should be about the grownups, right? A “kissy” holiday all about love and affection, romance in the air, the willful exchange of cooties. And yet this is never exactly how it goes, as anyone who’s ever gone to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day will tell you. One year, John and I made reservations at a little place in the West Village. When we arrived, we were greeted by two men dressed in billowing, satin red shirts, worn specially for Valentine’s Day (or that was what I sincerely hoped.) Man, we felt bad for those guys, scuttling through the restaurant like two nervous crayfish. They looked awkward and uncomfortable, like pets you’d sometimes dressed up in doll clothes (or maybe that was just me.) Eating at a restaurant on Valentine’s Day also entails the requisite special (read: inordinately expensive) prix-fixe menus and the close quarters of a packed house (you can feel the breath of your date, and also the breath of the guy next to him.)

Grownups! It’s time we take a stand. Our younger, better, thinner selves knew how to have a good time. We’ve forgotten the true meaning of what holidays are all about! Presents! Fun! And most importantly, as anyone under 4 feet tall will verify, cookies.

So, with that in mind, here is the perfect recipe for a perfect Valentine’s Day. These cookies are meant to be made and assembled with other people (loved or just “liked,” or even “‘like’ liked.”) Just make sure no cooties fall in.

Homemade Oreos

Makes about 25 cookies

For the chocolate wafers:

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

1 1/4 sticks room-temperature, unsalted butter

1 large egg

For the filling:

1/2 stick room-temperature, unsalted butter

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Make the wafers: In a food processor, mix flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. While pulsing, or on low speed, add butter, and then egg. Continue processing or mixing until dough comes together in a large ball.

Place rounded teaspoons of dough on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet at least two inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 9 minutes. Cool.

Make the filling: Place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high and beat until filling is light and fluffy.

Assemble the cookie: It helps to have a pastry bag to pipe the filling onto the wafer. But if you’re like me, and “buy pastry bag” is forever on tomorrow’s to-do list, spread the filling carefully on the wafer with a knife, and top with another cookie, equal in size to the first. Press down lightly, and continue the process until all cookies are now sandwiches. Enjoy. This is your holiday.

February 2013