I’ve never taken the romantic implications of Valentine’s Day too seriously, but I’ve always been a fan of its pink-and-red, heart-centric aesthetics. In middle school, my mom even allowed me to throw Valentine’s Day parties where I’d invite all my friends over to do cutesy crafts, eat pizza and play SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom on the GameCube. More than anything, it was an excuse to buy all the fun decor from the Dollar Store.
Today, despite having far fewer friends to invite over and no GameCube, my adoration for the novelties of Valentine’s Day remains — it may be a commercial holiday, but I’m a commercial bitch. Nowadays, though, without much space to store decorations and my staunch unwillingness to buy new ones, one of the better ways to enjoy the holiday is through food. In particular, heart-shaped food.
Is heart-shaped food cute or cringe? It’s both, obviously, just like the holiday writ large. And that’s exactly how everything with Valentine’s Day should be approached. If you’re in a relationship, it’s a fun excuse to enjoy each other’s company and indulge in being corny. If you’re single, that latter sentiment remains the same. I’ll take any good reason to break up the banality of day-to-day life with a little festivity, even if that requires leaning into the consumerism of it all.
I could hypothetically eat heart-shaped food any time of year, though it’s far more convenient in February, a month when I can open up any horrific food delivery app, search for “heart” and, at minimum, find a local Papa John’s that will dish out a heart-shaped pizza. Dunkin’, which is located on essentially every block of the Northeast, sells two different heart-shaped donuts around the holiday, too. And, if all else fails, whipping up some heart-shaped pancakes remains a perpetual option. So, this year, I pursued all three.
In the mood for a little DIY, I started with the pancakes. Before making an attempt, I did a quick Google search for advice. The top result was from Martha Stewart. Though I can’t exactly place why, I’d probably trust Martha Stewart to perform a lobotomy on me. So, I feel confident in taking her advice for heart-shaped pancakes. Her recommendation (besides making the pancakes entirely from scratch, which simply wasn’t going to happen) was to place the batter into a pastry bag with a nozzle at the tip, like one might use to properly decorate a cake. But I’m not Betty fucking Crocker, so I don’t own that. Instead, I improvised by placing my batter in a shaker bottle and a Ziploc bag with a small cut made in one of the lower corners.
Both were equally messy, and my attempt at making heart shapes was rather embarrassing. As I tried to form the shape in the pan, I was reminded of the several occasions in my life where I was made fun of by my peers for how absolutely ugly the heart-drawings I’d put on valentines or in the doodles on the sides of my notebooks were. Nevertheless, I persisted.
I have two little tidbits of advice for anyone hoping to create heart-shaped pancakes on their own. First, both the shaker bottle and the bag worked well enough, and I’d recommend either technique. More importantly, though, whichever you use, I’d suggest only putting enough batter for one pancake at a time into the vessel. With less batter, it pours out more slowly and therefore allows for greater control over your shape-making. Even still, my pancakes were ultimately a little ugly, if in a somewhat endearing way.
Of some comfort to me was the fact that the Papa John’s heart-shaped pizza and the Dunkin’ donuts were nearly just as ugly. The pizza, a thin-crust cheese, was rather oblong. It was listed as a 12-inch pizza, which seems truly meaningless considering the pizza is intended to be heart-shaped, not circular. The donuts, filled with brownie batter and Bavarian cream, were almost amorphous, constantly shifting in form. Both were, however, still recognizable as hearts. While neither were made with quite the same love as my pancakes, both were still a delightful break from the norm. I’m a known Dunkin’ stan, and I’ll admit I find Papa John’s pizza perfectly edible.
Do any of these foods present some type of grand, sweeping, romantic gesture? Of course not. Buying someone a Papa John’s pizza will never be the epitome of romance, regardless of season. She’s probably not gonna fuck you because you bought her a donut, either. But all heart-shaped foods are easy, fun little ways to sprinkle some Valentine’s Day spirit into things — something that is, again, totally unnecessary, but a welcomed opportunity to break up the winter. Call it cringe, but I’ll happily add whatever festivity and novelty is easily permissible in my daily life. If I can’t be back in middle school playing GameCube, I’m at least going to try and find some joy in heart-shaped pancakes.