A Sweet Way To The Heart For Valentine's Day

IN THE KITCHEN

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Sharing cookies and cupcakes with those special people can be simple to do. Stocking the pantry with ready-made mixes and a Cupid's mix of chocolate candies will allow you to create tokens of love in no time at all. Or, bake ahead and freeze to decorate at a moment's notice.

Gather your family and friends around the kitchen table, decorate heart cookies or cupcakes together and watch loving memories in the making.

Package these romantic gifts with Valentine's Day plates, transparent wrap and pretty ribbons, and share sweetness with neighbors, co-workers and those in need of a little extra kindness.

Valentine Cupcakes

1, 18-ounce box cake mix

1, 10- or 12-ounce bag Milky Way or Snickers Pop'ables

Red food coloring

2, 12-ounce cans whipped vanilla frosting

3/4 cup heart-shaped sprinkles

1, 14-ounce bag M&M'S Milk Chocolate Candies for Valentine's Day

Line muffin tins with paper cupcake liners. Prepare cake mix according to package directions. Chop Pop'ables and fold into batter before spooning into muffin cups. Bake according to package directions.

Let cupcakes cool to room temperature.

Using red food coloring, tint one can vanilla frosting pink. Spread 12 cupcakes with pink frosting and 12 with remaining white frosting.

Roll edges of frosted cupcakes in heart-shaped sprinkles. Arrange colored candies into various designs on top of each cupcake.

Makes 24 cupcakes.

Sweetheart Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Various heart-shaped cookie cutters

1, 11-ounce bag Dove Milk or Dark Chocolate Hearts

Red, pink and white M&M'S Chocolate Candies for Valentine's Day

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add salt, egg and vanilla, and continue to beat until well blended. Gradually blend in flour until fully incorporated. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface or between sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to about 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into heart shapes or use heart-shaped cookie cutters. Place on parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool.

To melt chocolate hearts, microwave approximately 3 to 4 minutes on medium power, stirring every 20 to 30 seconds, being very careful not to burn.

Dip cookies -- an edge or up to one-half -- in melted chocolate. Alternatively, try painting chocolate on cookies using baker's spatula or table knife, then decorate with colored candies.

Makes 2 dozen heart-shaped cookies.

Tiny Love Cakes

1, 16-ounce frozen pound cake, thawed

1, 2 to 2 1/4-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter

1, 16-ounce can prepared vanilla frosting

Red food coloring

1, 14-ounce bag M&M'S Milk Chocolate Candies for Valentine's Day

1 tube chocolate decorative frosting, with plain tip

Line cookie sheet with waxed paper and top with wire cooling rack; set aside. Cut pound cake lengthwise into nine slices, each about 1 inch thick. Using the heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out two heart shapes per cake slice. (Save trimmings for another use, such as trifles, rum balls or snacking.) Place heart-shaped cake pieces on top of wire cooling rack.

Spoon 1/4 cup of vanilla frosting into resealable plastic bag and set aside. Using red food coloring, tint remaining frosting light pink, and spoon it into glass measuring cup. Heat pink frosting in microwave 5 to 10 seconds, or until pourable. Do not overheat. Pour pink frosting over heart-shaped cake pieces, to cover both tops and sides, reusing drippings and reheating if necessary. Refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes.

Using scissors, snip small corner from resealable plastic bag filled with white frosting, and use it to pipe designs on tops and sides of heart-shaped cake pieces. Attach candies in different designs, then pipe messages on tops with decorative chocolate frosting.

Makes 18 cakes.

Heart and Soul Cookies

1, 18-ounce roll refrigerated sugar cookie dough

2/3 cup flour

Printable templates or two 3/4 and one 1/2-inch heart cookie cutters

Red food coloring

Red or pink sugar crystals

1, 13-ounce bag Milky Way Minis for Valentine's Day

1/4 cup heavy cream

1, 11-ounce bag Dove Milk or Dark Chocolate Hearts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Knead cookie dough with flour until smooth. Roll out 2/3 of dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using large heart template or cookie cutter, cut out 18 heart shapes, each 2-3/4 inches. Transfer to cookie sheets and bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven, transfer to wire rack and let cool completely.

Tint remaining cookie dough with red food coloring. Roll out red cookie dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using smaller heart template, cut out 18 heart shapes, each 1-1/2 inches. Sprinkle tops of smaller hearts with sugar crystals, and bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden.

Remove from oven, transfer to wire rack and let cool completely.

In microwave-safe bowl, melt 2 cups candy bar minis and heavy cream about 1-1/2 minutes or until smooth, stirring every few seconds.

Spread top of each larger heart cookie with chocolate mixture. Center smaller heart cookie on top of chocolate mixture. Spread back of chocolate hearts with melted chocolate mixture and place in center of cookie.

Makes 18 cookies.

For more recipes, decorating, gift and family fun ideas go to www.brightideas.com.

Recipes courtesy of Family Features Editorial Syndicate

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