Ever wonder about a mix you've seen in the store? Is it any good? Could it replace something you'd otherwise make from scratch? Welcome to Mixed Review, where the whole point is putting mixes to the test! —The Mgmt.

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As the author of a dessert cookbook, I set the bar pretty high for myself on Valentine's Day. In years past, I've surprised my boyfriend with a dozen banana cupcakes, perfectly gooey chocolate lava cakes, and a batch of liqueur-laced biscotti.

But this year Valentine's Day is a mere two weeks before our wedding. Two weeks! I have so much to do I can't even think about baking a recipe from scratch. Because I still wanted to give him something sweet, romantic, and chocolate, I picked up a box of the Barefoot Contessa's Chocolate-Dipped Shortbread Heart Cookie Mix. The mix is available at specialty stores, and is currently on sale at Sur La Table for $4.99. Since it includes the shortbread mix, the dipping chocolate, and the heart-shaped cookie cutter, it's actually quite a deal.

20110205-135879-barefoot-contessa-shortbread-hearts-3.jpgMaking the cookies isn't difficult, but because you have to prepare the dough, chill it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, and then roll it out, they do take longer than your average boxed mix cookies. From package to oven, it took me about an hour. The dough was easy--all I had to do was beat the dry mix with two sticks of softened butter. And once it had chilled, it rolled out smoothly with only a few tiny tears at the edges. I'm always appreciative of cooperative cookie dough.

I baked the oh-so-adorable hearts for exactly 16 minutes in a 350ºF. They emerged fragrant, golden-brown, and slightly puffed around the edges. I let them cool while I prepared the chocolate dip, a simple combination of bittersweet chocolate chunks and 1/2 cup of heavy cream, melted together in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water.

It was a bit difficult to "dip" each cookie. The chocolate was quite thick, and it was hard to spread it neatly in the crevasse at the top of each heart. After a few botched attempts I began "painting" each cookie with the back of a spoon. They didn't look quite as sleek and glossy as the cookies on the box, but then again it was a chocolate-covered cookie. I couldn't really imagine anyone complaining.

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The cookies were crispy, sweet, and scented faintly with vanilla. Each bite began with a slick of rich dark chocolate and ended in a satisfying crunch. The cookies had no hint of artificial, cloying, from-a-mix flavor. Seriously, you could say you baked them from scratch and no one would be the wiser.

Despite how much I liked them, the cookies had one fatal flaw. They tasted like homemade sugar cookies, not homemade shortbread. True shortbread is tender and flaky, and tastes of butter and salt. While the Barefoot Contessa cookies were buttery, the flavor wasn't anywhere near as intense as that of real shortbread, and I couldn't detect any salt at all. Additionally, the texture was off. These cookies were shatteringly crisp, as opposed to toothsome and crumbly. Ultimately, I would recommend this mix if you are looking for an easy and pretty Valentine's Day treat. For true shortbread flavor, you'll have to head elsewhere.

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