January and February are like the deep breath we collectively take after the Christmas holidays have come and gone. With our houses now empty of the holiday decorations, our lives hopefully have settled into a normal routine once more. During these cold winter months we would snuggle into an afghan or old quilt while we sat in the living room watching the news on television. But somewhere in the quiet of our minds we would already be planning for Valentine’s Day.
Originally a celebration for lovers, it has grown to include nearly everyone. When I was in the lower grades at school, I remember that mom would buy me a package of valentine cards. We made sure that there was enough for every member of my class – we had forty-four children in my grammar school class. I would spend almost an entire Saturday afternoon choosing just the right card from the pack for my classmates. On the big day itself, each of us children would carry in their Valentine cards and put them into a big box on our teacher’s desk. At lunch time, our teacher would sort the cards and leave a small pile of them on our desks. We couldn’t wait to get back from lunch that day! As we grew older we no longer gave cards to all of our classmates. Perhaps to a special few, our closest friends or those we had a crush on.
During those same school years, we also made Valentine Cards for our parents during our art class. Mostly these were comprised of colored stock paper, some amateurish art work consisting mostly of hearts, or cut-out flowers that we glued to the card. We added a nice sentiment or two, like “I love you mommy”, some of us used a bit of glitter, and voilá – we had a nice card to take home!
One of the other nice features of Valentine’s Day was that we knew there would be something sweet in our house. Usually there was a heart-shaped box of candy that we would share. Most often mom would bake something sweet for us all. Her favorite thing to make was sugar cookies cut out in the shape of a heart and frosted with pink icing and sprinkles. Our family favorite, though, was mom’s Valentine’s Cake. It was a pink cake that was baked in a heart shaped pan and frosted with white frosting and decorated with hearts. It was a special cake for us because mom always added that special ingredient – love!
Recipe for Valentine’s Cake
1 pound of plain white cake mix
Red food coloring
2 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
Pink or red sugar sprinkles
Heart-shaped candy – optional
Preheat oven and prepare cake mix as directed on package for a 2-layer, 9-inch cake.
Tint batter pink with the red food coloring.
Cool cakes in pans for 15 minutes before removing from pans and placing on wire rack to cool completely.
Frosting: In top of double boiler, over simmering water, beat egg whites, sugar, 1/4 cup water, corn syrup and cream of tartar with handheld mixer at high speed until soft peaks form, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove double-boiler top from double-boiler bottom; continue beating at high speed until frosting is thick enough to spread, about 7 to 10 minutes more.
To assemble cake, place 1 cake layer, rounded side down, on cake plate, and spread with frosting. Top with second layer; spread remaining frosting over sides and top of cake (keep any extra frosting in an airtight container in fridge for another use).
Gently lay a heart-shaped cookie cutter on surface of cake to serve as a stencil. Fill inside of cookie cutter evenly with red or pink sugar sprinkles; carefully lift off cutter to reveal the heart-shaped design. Repeat using heart-shaped cutters of various sizes, if desired. Garnish with heart-shaped candy decors.