Orange Curd Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Sometimes I get a recipe idea stuck in my head, and I have to make it. For the past week or so it has been a fresh orange layer cake, pictured perfectly in my head with its sunshine-yellow hue, tart-sweet flavor, and perfect crumb. I made one several years ago, following the recipe in The Cake Mix Doctor book. You start with a cake mix and “doctor” it up by adding fresh orange juice, zest and the usual eggs and such. I remember that cake fondly and somehow the memory of its deliciousness came back to bug me and wouldn’t leave me alone. Maybe it was because I had three oranges sitting in my fruit drawer, or maybe it was because I had leftover (bottled) orange juice sitting in my fridge, and since I don’t drink OJ these days, it felt like a challenge to use it up.

I ignored the idea for a while mainly because making a layer cake without a real occasion such as a birthday or a party seemed a little extravagant, plus there’s the fact that then there would be a whole cake in the house to eat and I wasn’t even sure if Sam would eat some. I even asked my neighbor, who loves sweets, if she would eat some and she declined. This past weekend, I finally gave in, deciding to make a smaller batch.

The thing is I really wanted a layer cake – not a single layer, not a square cake, a layer cake. What I love about layer cakes is the ratio of cake to frosting or filling, all perfectly portioned out so you can have the perfect bite. So how do you make a smaller batch? You can use smaller cake pans (which I don’t have) or you can do what I did and make one single layer and cut it into thirds (or halves) and make your fraction of a layer cake.

So I did just that. But when I went to stack my cakes, the cake was too dense and moist, and the curd filling I had made wasn’t thick enough, and the layers slipped and slid on top of each other while I desperately tried different ways to fix it. In the end I embraced the fact that it was an ugly cake, but hurrah at least I had made it! (I did not take any pictures of it…)

However, the flavor was also off. The cake I made had the flavor of too much baking soda and it was almost too dense to swallow. So a few days later I decided to try again, but this time I gave up on my layer cake dream and opted for a filled and frosted cupcake instead. The result: perfection. It is so satisfying to finally taste the thing that you craved, even if the original idea changed a little.

The gooey center is not in fact undercooked – it’s homemade orange curd!

This time of year, citrus is at its best, which makes it the perfect time to make these cupcakes. Plus if you live in a part of the country where the earth and trees are brown and barren, the ground is white with snow, or skies are gray, these bright sunny colors arrive at the perfect time of year to add some color to your winter.

Orange Curd Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cake:

  • 1 +2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 + 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. orange zest
  • 2/3 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed or from a bottle)
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a cupcake pan with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together. Add orange zest and rub into the mixture so that the zest doesn’t clump in one spot and it infuses the dry ingredients with the orange oils.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs, oil and juice until blended. Add to dry ingredients and stir to combine, being sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

Divide the batter between your paper liners (should make about 14), filling no more than 3/4 full. Bake in your preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

For the orange curd:

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. orange zest
  • 1 tsp. lemon or grapefruit zest
  • 2 T. lemon or grapefruit juice
  • 1/3 cup + 2 T. freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 10 T. unsalted butter, cold
  • pinch of salt

If you have a double boiler, get it out. If not, find a pot and glass bowl that fits perfectly into the top of the pot so that the bottom of the bowl does not go more than halfway down into the pot. Fill your pot with a few inches of water and bring to a boil. Make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water as it boils. To the bowl add your sugar and zests and rub the zest into the sugar to release the flavor. Add the juices and whisk to blend. Turn the water down to a simmer and leave until the sugar begins to dissolve and the liquid is warmed.

In a separate bowl beat your egg yolks. Once the sugar and juice mixture has warmed, gradually add some, a spoonful at a time, to your egg yolks, whisking the egg yolks as you add (you don’t need to add all of the juice mixture). Once the bowl with the egg yolks feels somewhat warm to the touch, go ahead and add the egg yolk mixture to your glass bowl with any remaining juice and return it to the simmering water. Cook the mixture until it begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon, 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and add butter in small cubes, whisking to melt the butter. Taste and add a pinch salt to bring out all of the flavor.

Once all of the butter has been incorporated, put all of your curd into a medium size bowl, press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface to prevent a skin forming and refrigerate to cool. (You will have extra curd so feel free to halve the recipe or save for another use.)

For the orange cream cheese frosting:

  • one 8-oz block of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 T. fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 tsp. orange zest
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl until light and fluffy. Add remaining ingredients and blend on low until sugar is incorporated enough to not fly everywhere. Scrape the sides and beat until well blended.

To assemble:

Once your cupcakes have cooled, take a small spoon and dig out a small hole in the top middle of each one, removing about 2 teaspoons of cake. (Set aside to eat later!) Fill each hole with your cooled curd. Frost with your cream cheese frosting and decorate as desired. Enjoy!

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Lemon Rosemary Shortbread

Eight years ago this fall, my sister, Chelsea, was living in San Francisco doing an externship through her architecture program. Chelsea thoughtfully sent me a package of local treasures including a few lemons and fresh rosemary. Apparently both were growing abundantly in the neighborhood where she lived, and as a passionate foodie, she figured I would appreciate the gifts, which of course I did. While searching for a use for them, I stumbled upon a recipe for lemon rosemary shortbread. I was intrigued by the idea of using a savory herb like rosemary in a dessert. I have to say that the combination of buttery cookie with the floral flavors of lemon and rosemary go together perfectly. The cookies were delicious!

Eight years later (last month) I found myself with a surplus of fresh rosemary – literally. I received some rosemary in my Imperfect Produce box, (they’re an awesome company that takes produce that is scarred, misshapen, or in excess – and which retailers won’t sell – and sends it to consumers in a weekly customized box.) I love fresh rosemary and so when I saw there was a surplus (and from California!) I happily added it to my order, without really knowing how I’d use it. So with an itch to bake, I decided to make those lemon rosemary shortbread cookies once again, if my almost 7 month old baby would let me of course.

Slight tangent here, but it’s funny how delusional about my life as a stay-at-home mom I can be. Sometimes I find myself waking up thinking about what I want to do that day and dreaming up all these recipes I want to make. Somehow I’m reminded that I am a mother and my young, not-yet-crawling baby is likely going to occupy most of my day. Today, however, she took a longer than usual nap so I threw together a batch of these cookies.

Unfortunately I never took a picture of the finished product but hopefully you get the idea. Picture perfectly buttery, golden cookies that go perfectly with a cup of tea on a rainy day (hello Seattle winter!) and you probably have the right image in your mind. And if you’re doubtful of the rosemary and cookies combination, let me tell you that my neighbor, who is not generally a fan of rosemary, loved them and said the flavor was not too strong.

Lemon Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

2 sticks (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg yolk

1 lemon, zested

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 T. chopped, fresh rosemary

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)

Cream together butter and sugar for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and beat until incorporated. Add vanilla now if using. Combine the flour, salt, and lemon zest, rubbing it into the flour to break up the pieces. Add to the butter, beating on low to incorporate or fold in with a spatula. Fold in fresh rosemary. Wrap dough in plastic and put in the fridge to firm up for at least 30 minutes.

When dough is ready, preheat your oven to 375 F. Roll out your dough on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick and cut into squares or use your favorite cookie cutter. Space cookies about 2 inches apart and bake until golden brown – 10-12 minutes. I even almost burned a batch of mine (due to taking care of the baby) and they still tasted good!

Homemade Filo for Baklava and Apple Tart

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I became a mother almost two months ago and sometimes it still doesn’t feel like it’s real. It’s like how did I suddenly (though it wasn’t really) become a mother? Somehow, it feels like motherhood is something that has to be earned over a longer period of time, not something you can become in just one day when a baby is born. I’m not trying to discredit other mothers, by any means. We have certainly earned the title after carrying our babies in our bodies for 9+ months and going through childbirth, but somehow the title still feels strange. I’m sure it’s just like being married or changing your name in that it’s something that I will get used to over time.

I thought motherhood would make me a different person, but mostly I still feel the same except with a baby. Feeling the same is good of course, as I didn’t want to lose who I was, but I somehow expected this overwhelming feeling of a change in identity. Maybe that also develops over time as I will interact with the world and my baby as a mother.

Of course one of the things that makes me me is my love of food and cooking. In the first few weeks of motherhood I definitely did not have the time or energy to cook and I was grateful to the friends who brought us food and the meals I’d prepared ahead of time to stock our freezer. It was hard enough to remember to eat or find time to eat when my focus was on feeding my baby and getting enough sleep. In recent weeks I’ve felt myself getting back to normal with my desire to get my hands dirty in the kitchen coming on strong. For some reason this week that desire manifested itself in homemade filo/phyllo dough, which I used to make baklava and an apple tart. I enjoyed the process of making the filo dough, though it didn’t turn out as thin as I would have liked, and I was able to use some nuts that were past their “best by” date (they’re still good!)

The baklava I made was based on this recipe here and the apple tart one I made up with a sheet of leftover dough I had. It felt good to get in the kitchen again and create something with my hands, though it certainly wasn’t the same as it used to be. I made the recipe in steps over an afternoon, evening, and morning, with interruptions determined by a certain hungry baby. In the future, hopefully she’ll be helping me to cook.

Apple Filo Tart

4-6 sheets of filo dough, thawed if frozen*

1 large apple of your choice, peeled and diced

2 T. brown sugar

1 T. flour

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

3-4 T. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Lay your sheets of filo dough on the parchment, brushing with butter every two layers or just on top if using homemade. In a medium bowl mix diced apple, sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Spread the apple mixture in a circle in the middle of your filo dough making sure that the apples are not piled on each other, though don’t be too picky about it. Gently fold the extra filo over the apple mixture and brush the top with butter. You may not use all of the butter.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes until lightly browned and crispy. Let cool and cut into slices.

*I used only one sheet of my homemade dough, though it was thicker than the store-bought kind.

Better-than-Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

IMG_1597These are not oreos.

These are buttery chocolate shortbreads smashed together with a sweetened thick icing.

IMG_1582The ingredient list is short (and sweet!) You probably already have everything at home to make them. Well, except the cake flour, but I didn’t let that stop me!

IMG_1585Sticky chocolate dough. Don’t add more flour to make it better. Stick it in the fridge. Let that softened butter firm up again.

IMG_1586I used a wedding gift champagne glass as my cookie cutter. That’s because I’m creative. Also I do not own a round cookie cutter. Doesn’t a round cookie cutter just seem unnecessary and boring?

IMG_1589Freshly baked below! (No rising involved so they don’t look that different from the unbaked above)IMG_1591Sandwich them together. Eat a few. Dip in milk if desired.

IMG_1598Wrap up for a friend.

IMG_1599Stamp it with your seal. Let them know: I made these, people!

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Better-than-Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

adapted from the Totally Chocolate Cookbook

Chocolate Shortbread

2 sticks butter, softened (I used one salted, one unsalted and it was perfect)

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1 tsp. vanilla

1+1/2 cups cake flour OR 1 cup + 2 T. all purpose flour AND 2 T. cornstarch (I used the cornstarch)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

1/4 tsp. salt

Filling

1/3 cup vegetable shortening

1+2/3 cup powdered sugar

2 T. milk or heavy cream

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the cookies, beat butter with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla and mix in. In a separate bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to butter mixture and mix until there are no streaks of white. Do not over mix. If it is sticky (which it should be) wrap in plastic wrap in a flattened disc and refrigerate until somewhat firm – 30 minutes to an hour.

Divide the dough in half and keep one half in the fridge while you roll out the other. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and roll until 1/4 inch thick. Be sure to check the dough as you are rolling it out to make sure it isn’t sticking. Flip over and re-flour as necessary. Cut out rounds of dough (about 2 inches) using a cookie cutter, drinking glass, or champagne glass (if you’re feeling fancy). It is very helpful to flour your cookie cutter every few cookies so the dough doesn’t get stuck. Space the cookies apart about a 1/2 inch on an unlined, ungreased cookie sheet. Be careful transferring them as the dough is fragile. I used a thin metal spatula to keep from crushing the edges. Refrigerate the cookies on the sheet until firm again, while you finish rolling out the rest of the dough (10 minutes should be about right). Re-roll scraps and use as much as possible without overworking the dough.

With the cookie sheets of cookie rounds still in the fridge, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When preheated, remove the cookie sheets from the fridge and bake the cookies for 18-20 minutes, switching racks and rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Cookies should be slightly firm to the touch. Be careful not to over cook them. Since they are already dark, it can be hard to see if they’re done by their color. Let cool and prepare the filling.

For the filling beat the shortening with an electric mixer to loosen it up. Add sugar and half the milk, beating to incorporate. Add remaining ingredients and stir until smooth.

To frost, dab a spoonful of the filling on the bottom of a cooled cookie. Top with another cookie and gently wiggle and smoosh it to distribute the frosting evenly or just spread it on one cookie evenly before putting the second cookie on top. Repeat with remaining cookies. Enjoy with milk. I found this made just the right amount of filling for my cookies, but it depends how much you put on and how many cookies you end up with. You can always measure out the filling and divide it exactly between the cookies.

Makes about 36 sandwichesIMG_1595

As a side note: I decided to get rid of the post numbering. Does anyone really care how many “posts” I’ve written? Probably not. If you do, let me know 🙂 Thanks for reading as always.

Post 116 – Jacques Pépin’s Chicken Ragout

I had the chance to meet Jacques Pépin once. You know, the French chef who was good friends with Julia Child? Boston University was hosting a Jacques Pépin themed evening where local chefs made interpretations of dishes from Pépin’s cookbook, which every participant got to take home. Pépin was to be in attendance that night, but unfortunately his health kept him from coming so instead he made a video message to share with his fans at the event. Continue reading

Post 93 – Eat your Greens! + Chelsea’s Cranberry Bread

Last Friday (Oct. 24) was Food Day! To celebrate we offered samples of kale chips to the students and teachers. To our shock and amazement, the kale chips were wildly popular with students coming up for seconds and thirds. We even heard one child exclaim: “These are better than potato chips!” I could not have paid that child to say anything better 🙂

It probably helped that we gave out stickers if they tried it and put up a big poster to voice their opinion of the kale.

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Overall, Food Day kale chips were a huge hit and I’m happy to say we may even make kale chips again. (Another great quote: “Can we have these every Friday?!” – HA!) We even had requests for the recipe so we posted it in the school’s weekly bulletin. Eat your greens!

Speaking of greens, well green vegetables, I wanted to share a successful and simple recipe with you that I came up with on Friday. Most of the time when I go to the grocery store I have a plan and a list that I follow. Sometimes I stray from the list based on what looks good and sometimes my indecisiveness causes me to buy multiple random ingredients for which I have no specific plans, or rather some vague plan that I may or may not follow. This week it was asparagus, bacon, fresh cranberries, and coconut milk. After sitting in the fridge for a few days, the idea came to me: bacon-wrapped asparagus!

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Simply wrap your asparagus spears in half strips of bacon (no oil needed thanks to the bacon fat), lay out on a tray, sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper if desired, and bake. I don’t have a good baking rack, but I’m sure they would turn out crispier if you put them on a rack on top of the sheet pan. That way more air circulates and they’re not sitting in the bacon grease. Bake at 450 until they reach the done-ness you desire (10-15 min) and broil at the end for a few minutes for extra crisping!  Easy and yummy!

I decided to use the cranberries for my sister Chelsea’s favorite Cranberry-Orange bread. This recipe is one I clipped from a magazine back in high school while collecting recipes for my favorite recipe binder. It quickly became a favorite. It is fresh, only slightly sweet thanks to the fresh cranberries, (I even got Sam to try a fresh cranberry! His face was priceless) and has a nice crunch from the walnuts. I opted to make them in mini loaves this time, though it makes a great big loaf too.

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One of the best parts about this recipe is I get to use my favorite kitchen tool: the pastry blender!

 

Chelsea’s Favorite Cranberry Bread

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1.5 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/3 cup unsalted butter, cold

2/3 cup orange juice (fresh squeezed is best!)

1 tsp. grated orange zest

1 large egg

1.5 cups fresh cranberries, halved (allow some time to cut these babies)

1 cup walnuts, chopped

 

Start by halving your cranberries, chopping your walnuts (if necessary), and juicing your oranges. Measure your flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt into a medium bowl and stir to mix well. Cut your cold butter into small cubes and using a pastry blender (or two knives) cut into the flour mixture until the butter is pea sized.

Preheat your oven to 350.

In a small bowl mix your orange juice, zest, and egg. Pour into flour and butter mixture and mix just until barely combined (see photo above). Carefully fold in your cranberries and walnuts. The dough will be relatively thick and lumpy, but don’t overmix it.

Pour into one large greased loaf pan, smaller loaf pans, or jumbo muffin pans. Bake for 25-30 for small loaves and 55-65 minutes for the large loaf. Loaves are done when golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool and enjoy.

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The smell is irresistible!

Oh and in case you’re wondering, I still have some remaining cranberries and I haven’t decided what to do with the coconut milk. The coconut milk (canned) will keep, the cranberries will not. More to come! Happy fall!

 

 

Post 64 – Checkerboard cookies

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.)

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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)

Christmas dinner prime rib roast

Christmas dinner prime rib roast

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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”).

I like to use the knife as a spatula so the strips don't break while being transferred.

I like to use the knife as a spatula so the strips don’t break while being transferred.

The strips before being "glued" with egg wash.

The strips before being “glued” with egg wash.

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.

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They look messy now, but just wait until they are ready for baking!

IMG_3977  Just like I told you – slice and bake. IMG_3980

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Bake for 18-20 minutes until lightly golden brown.

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photo 2(6)

And wrap them up for someone you love.

photo 1(7)See, that wasn’t so hard.

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!

Checkerboard cookies

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.