Bite-Size Valentine's Day Desserts

Charm your sweeties this Valentine's Day with confections such as our ultra-easy truffles, sparkly cookies, and chocolaty cherries.
Peanut Butter Truffles, Homemade Chocolate-Dipped Caramels, and Sweetheart Sugar Cookies

Peanut Butter Truffles
Makes: about 2 dozen Hands-on time: 20 min. Total time: 3 hr., 30 min.
If you overbeat the chocolate mixture in Step 2, beat in 2 to 3 Tbsp. more whipping cream to return mixture to a smooth consistency.

1 (12-oz.) package semisweet chocolate morsels
½ cup whipping cream
3 Tbsp. creamy peanut butter
¾ cup finely chopped, lightly salted roasted peanuts
Wax paper

1. Microwave first 3 ingredients in a medium-size microwave-safe bowl at HIGH 1 to 1½ minutes or until melted and smooth, stirring at 30-second intervals. Let cool 10 minutes.

2. Beat chocolate mixture at medium speed with an electric mixer 1 to 2 minutes or until whipped and smooth. Cover and chill 2 hours or until firm.

3. Shape chocolate mixture into 1-inch balls, using a small ice-cream scoop. Roll in chopped peanuts. (If chocolate mixture becomes too soft to shape, refrigerate until firm.) Place on wax paper-lined baking sheets. Chill 1 hour before serving. Store truffles in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 5 days.

Related: Wickedly Delicious Chocolate Desserts

Homemade Chocolate-Dipped Caramels
Makes: 5 dozen Hands-on time: 50 min. Total time: 10 hr., 35 min.
The hot caramel mixture needs to be poured immediately after stirring in vanilla, so be sure to butter your pan ahead of time.

1 cup sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
1 cup butter
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 (12-oz.) package semisweet chocolate morsels
2 Tbsp. shortening
Wax paper
Chopped crystallized ginger (optional)
Coarse sea salt (optional)

1. Bring first 3 ingredients to a boil in a 3-qt. saucepan over medium heat; cook, without stirring, 7 minutes.

2. Stir in condensed milk, and bring to a boil over medium heat; cook, stirring constantly, until a candy thermometer registers 238° to 240° (soft ball stage), about 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Pour into a buttered 8-inch square pan. Let stand at room temperature 8 hours.

4. Invert caramel onto a cutting board; cut into 1-inch squares using a bench scraper or knife.

5. Cook chocolate and shortening in a saucepan over medium heat 3 to 5 minutes until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Toss caramels in chocolate mixture, in batches, until thoroughly coated, using a fork. Transfer to wax paper. Sprinkle with crystallized ginger or coarse sea salt, if desired. Chill 1 hour. Let stand at room temperature 30 to 45 minutes before serving. Store leftovers in refrigerator up to 5 days.

Tip: It can be intimidating to make candy. But keep your eye on the prize-a delicious treat-and go for it. Start with an accurate candy thermometer, and use these tips to make your caramels look candy-shop perfect.
1. Cut squares the easy way: Grasp a bench scraper by the handle, place sharp edge on caramel, and press down to cut. This tool, sometimes called a dough scraper or pastry scraper, sells for about $6.
2. Create a flawless coating: Drop squares into chocolate mixture; then lift out with a fork. Drag the fork against the lip of the pan to remove excess chocolate as you transfer each candy to wax paper.

Related: Romantic Menus and Wine Pairings

Sweetheart Sugar Cookies
Makes: about 3 dozen Hands-on Time: 30 min. Total time: 1 hr., 45 min.
You may need to prepare additional meringue powder-and-water mixture as you decorate cookies. Sanding sugar may also be called "fine" sugar.

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt
2 tsp. meringue powder
Pink sanding sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Beat butter, granulated sugar, and vanilla at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add egg, beating until blended.

2. Combine flour and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, beating just until blended.

3. Divide dough into 2 equal portions; flatten each portion into a disk. Cover and chill 10 minutes.

4. Place 1 dough disk on a heavily floured surface, and roll to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut with a 3-inch heart-shaped cutter. Place 2 inches apart on lightly greased baking sheets. Repeat procedure with remaining dough disk.

5. Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Let cool on baking sheets 5 minutes; transfer to wire racks, and let cool completely (about 30 minutes).

6. Whisk together meringue powder and 2 Tbsp. water. Brush cookies with mixture, or dip cookies in mixture, and sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Tip: Make Big and Little Cookies Too!
For jumbo cookies: Cut rolled-out dough with a 4½-inch heart-shaped cutter. Bake at 350° for 15 to 17 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.
Makes: about 1 dozen

For bite-size cookies: Cut rolled-out dough with a 1-inch heart-shaped cutter. Bake at 350° for 8 to 11 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.
Makes: about 20 dozen

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