I know I missed the cookie swaps…
and the Christmas parties…
and that it’s almost time for New Year’s resolutions, BUT I just had to make some checkerboard cookies (because I didn’t eat enough sugar over the holidays just like everyone else. Ha! Yeah right! Let’s see – marble cookies, homemade hot fudge, ice cream, pumpkin pie, spiced nuts, not to mention cookies brought over by the neighbors, treats at the family Christmas gathering, and freshly baked black and whites to take with us on the plane ride home! We did miss out on Top Pot doughnuts, but that was probably a blessing in disguise.)
We spent a lovely Christmas week in Seattle with my future in-laws. Sam’s extended family threw me a wonderful bridal shower that made me feel welcomed into the family and very loved. I am excited by all the wonderful gifts we received and have already started using some (new kitchen gadgets! <squeals of excitement>). We spent our week in Seattle relaxing, indulging, and taking for granted the pleasures of being in an updated and well-kept home where we didn’t have to wash dishes or scoop cat litter (Sam’s reading this and thinking: how often do YOU really scoop cat litter? Also – Seattle photo credits to Sam)
The week disappeared far too quickly, and though I do have (less than) a week left, I still have the feeling leftover from my college days that winter breaks should last a whole month. That leaves just about enough time to hibernate and to get used to not working and hanging around in your PJ’s all day.
Extra time at home also lends itself well to is kitchen adventures, hence, the checkerboard cookies. Cold outside and cozy in gives you all the more reason to turn on the oven and set your stove top a-blazin’ (as in the burners, don’t light your kitchen on fire).
In my case I made checkerboard cookies, which have become somewhat of an unofficial Christmas cookie tradition for me ever since I learned how to make them. As Maida Heatter says in her description in this wonderful gift from my godmother, these cookies require precision, not Antonin Careme-style talent and they are certainly very impressive looking. Many people have asked me if I assemble each cookie square by square. God, no.
They start like most cookies with a mother lode of butter and some sugar. Add some flour and then comes the hard part.
You divide the crumbly dough perfectly in half (very important). You could do this by weight or volume. (And if you’re a cookie dough eater, make sure you are nibbling on the name amount from each half!)
And you knead cocoa powder into one half of the dough.
Next you make perfect dough squares, flat and even and measured. And you cut them into strips.
Lay them out side by side, with egg wash as your glue (I used an egg yolk, but you can use a whole egg or even just an egg white for clear “glue”).
and then layer the strips, being careful to alternate the colors for the checkerboard effect.
Wrap up and refrigerate until firm (at least a half hour) and then basically slice and bake. Ta-da! Checkerboards.
They look messy now, but just wait until they are ready for baking!
Bake for 18-20 minutes until lightly golden brown.
And wrap them up for someone you love.
Since tomorrow’s is New Year’s Day and we’re all going to be forgoing sugar and butter for an extra serving of vegetables, you only have one day to make these (sorry…) Either that or put them on your to-do list for next year’s Christmas cookies.
Happy baking and Happy (almost) New Year!
Adapted slightly from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract (don’t skip!)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2+3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour (I never sift… oops)
2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 egg, egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp. water, or egg white, lightly beaten (for egg wash)
In a large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add the sugar, salt, vanilla, and almond extracts and beat to mix well. On low speed gradually add the flour, scraping the bowl with a spatula a few times. The mixture will be crumbly. Turn it out onto a large board or smooth work surface and squeeze it with your hands and knead it until it holds together.
Divide the dough into two equal halves (by weight or volume – using dry measuring cups). Maida says it’s a scant 2.5 cups of dough, but I found that I had a full 2.5 cups when I made it most recently. Set one half aside. Add cocoa to the remaining half and knead to incorporate until smooth and evenly colored.
Shape each half into a flat square, using your hands or a rolling pin. Make sure to square off the corners. The square must be 6 x 6 inches and about 1/2 thick. The edges may be pressed into a straight line by pushing a ruler or a long, heavy knife against them or they may be trimmed.
Mark each square with a ruler and small knife into 1/2-inch increments on two opposite sides. Using a ruler if necessary cut the square into long strips, using the 1/2 inch markers as guides. Do this with both the plain and chocolate dough.
Prepare two pieces of plastic wrap. To assemble cookie logs, place one strip of chocolate dough on the plastic wrap, brush the top and one side with egg wash and lay a plain dough strip next to it on the egg-washed side. Repeat with the egg wash and two more strips of dough, colors alternating. Place four more strips of dough on top, using the egg wash in between layers, being sure to place a chocolate strip on top of a plain strip and vice versa. Form a third layer the same way. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside. Repeat with remaining strips of dough on second piece of plastic wrap. Wrap and refrigerate both logs for at least 30 minutes or up to one day.
When ready to bake, remove logs and unwrap. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Cut a thin slice off the ends of each log to make perfectly straight edges. Measure the bar into 1/4 inch lengths and slice. Place the cookies on the prepared sheets at least 1/2 inch apart and bake for 15-20 minutes until desired golden brown-ness. Cool and enjoy.