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The way to anyone's heart on Valentine's Day: Homemade baked goods

"Sweets for the sweet" will always be appropriate for Valentine's Day, but what if your sweetheart isn't a fan of boxed chocolates? Or perhaps you want to give an extra special gift by making it homemade? Baking a treat for your loved one is a great way to give a personal — and cost-effective - gift this year.

Fortunately, you don't have to be a pastry chef or even an expert home baker to create something delicious and full of love. With an easy-to-make recipe and a few baking tips, even the cooking-challenged can create something special.

Keep these simple baking tips in mind:

* Follow recipes as precisely as possible. Seasoned bakers may succeed with experimentation, but if you're new to baking or not confident of your improvisational skills, sticking to the recipe should yield the best results.

* Measure all ingredients carefully. A tablespoon too much or too little of any ingredient can make a big difference in a recipe.

* Be careful with oven temperature settings. Don't try to speed baking with a temperature higher than what the recipe calls for. If the recipe specifies different temperatures for different types of baking dishes, be sure to choose the setting that matches your type of bakeware.

* Resist the temptation to remove baked goods from the pan, dish or sheet right away. Allow baked goodies to cool for the amount of time prescribed in the recipe. Rushing it could result in crumbling or cracking.

Armed with these tips, try surprising your sweetheart with these easy, delicious recipes from

Peanutty Pie Crust ClustersBy Beth Royals of Richmond, Virginia — $1 million winner of the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest

With just six ingredients, these clusters are easy to make. Plus, the inclusion of peanut butter and pie crust evokes a nostalgic and warm feeling.

Prep time:

30 minutes

Total time:

45 minutes

Makes 30 servings/clustersIngredients:

1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust, softened as directed on box
1 bag (12 ounces) white vanilla baking chips (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon Crisco Baking Sticks Butter Flavor All-Vegetable shortening
1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter
1 cup salted cocktail peanuts
2/3 cup toffee bits


Heat oven to 450 F. Line 2 cookie sheets with Reynolds(R) Cut-Rite(R) Wax Paper. Unroll pie crust on work surface. With pizza cutter or knife, cut into 16 rows by 16 rows to make small squares. Arrange squares in single layer on large ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 6 to 8 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove squares from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about five minutes.
In large microwavable bowl, microwave baking chips, shortening and peanut butter uncovered on high for 60-90 seconds, stirring once, until chips can be stirred smooth. Add pie crust squares, peanuts and toffee bits. Stir gently until evenly coated. Immediately drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto lined cookie sheets. (If mixture gets too thick, microwave on high 15 seconds and stir.) Refrigerate about 15 minutes or until set. Store covered.

Toffee and Almond Fudge Cookie CupsBy Amy Andrews of Macomb, Michigan

Cookies, cupcakes or candy? How to choose which one to make? Why choose at all? These cookie cups marry the sweetest of all worlds in a single treat sure to win the heart of any loved one.

Prep time:

25 minutes

Total time:

1 hour 15 minutes

Makes 48 servingsIngredients:

2 packages Pillsbury Ready to Bake refrigerated sugar cookies
1/4 cup milk chocolate toffee bits (from 8-ounce bag)
1 can (14 ounces) fat free sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup creamy almond butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup sliced almonds, finely chopped
1 can (6.5 ounces) whipped cream topping (in aerosol can)


Heat oven to 375 F. Spray 48 nonstick mini muffin cups with cooking spray. Place one cookie-dough round in each muffin cup. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the toffee bits evenly over cookie-dough rounds. Bake 13 to 18 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Loosen with tip of knife and carefully remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 15 minutes.

While cookies cool, heat sweetened condensed milk and almond butter in a 1-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Cool 2 minutes. Spoon one heaping teaspoon of condensed milk mixture into each cookie cup.

In small bowl, mix remaining two tablespoons of toffee bits and the almonds. To serve, top each cup with about one tablespoon of whipped cream topping and about 1/4 teaspoon of the almond mixture.