Flour Roulette & Valentine's Day Sugar Cookies
My first job out of college was at Grist Magazine. I wrote a sustainability newsletter called Shift Happens (lol) and pitched in on a new program that evolved into the fabulous vertical that’s now called Fix. My first Valentine’s Day at Grist, in a bid to ingratiate myself, I brought in pink desserts. I’m happy to report that it worked, probably thanks to the crowd-pleaser of the dessert tray: a few dozen massive, heart-shaped marbled sugar cookies.
Now, six years later, I can’t think of Valentine’s Day without thinking of marbled sugar cookies. Executed well, they’re the perfect dessert, but more so because of the marbling, if I’m being honest.
I caught the bug as a kid in Gainesville, where my family occasionally stopped for a treat at Uppercrust Bakery. The glass case held lots of desserts, but I had eyes only for the marbled sugar cookies. In the memory that lodged itself into my brain, it’s fall when we walk into the bakery:
The cookies are cut into leaf and turkey shapes as big as a plate. The glossy white glaze atop the almond-scented cookies is swirled with whirls of browns and reds and oranges. I know then and there I’ve never seen anything more vivid, more elegant, more real than those blushes of color fading into one another. And on a cookie, no less! My fingers flex instinctively. I must have a leaf. Or a turkey. Or both.
I’ve never seen fall colors – Florida stays stubbornly green all year, the cicadas never even stop. But I think to myself: This must be what the inside of some colorful forest looks like, somewhere far, far north of here.
I didn’t learn until much later how easy it is to make marbled frosting. It’s as simple as powdered sugar, milk, a few drops of food coloring, and one stir of a whisk.
Nor did I learn until recently how important and easy it is to use varied flours when we bake. Putting our dollars behind the flours like rye and einkorn and buckwheat that could make up a more diverse, resilient food system is an easy way bakers can get involved in climate action.
If you’re interested, I’ve got a whole podcast episode on that topic.
And as a rule of thumb, I’ve found you can typically swap ~25-30% of the all-purpose flour a cookie recipe calls for with any other flour at all. No ill effects.
That’s why, if you have plans to bake something sweet this Valentine’s Day, I’m going to recommend you play a little game I call Flour Roulette.
Pick your favorite cookie recipe – or use this one I love from Sally’s Baking Addiction – and swap a quarter of the flour for any non-AP flour. When I made these cookies this weekend, I used one third rye dark-rye flour and swapped the vanilla and almond extract for a citrusy Italian millefiore flavoring. It was delicious.
Happy Valentine’s Day, if you celebrate it, and happy Tuesday if you – like me – care more about the excuse this holiday provides to eat cookies than anything else.