The Best Checkerboard Cookies Ever!

The Little Rocker’s Birthday was this week and as a devoted mother I thought it my duty to make her a little party with the requisite birthday cake, etc.  She actually had a party in preschool for which I brought a cake and goody bags, but we also decided to make a small thing at home for my friends (duh!).  For this party, we decided to make cupcakes and checkerboard cookies.

The inspiration for the cookies came to me on Shabbat when I was browsing through the CIA cookbook Baking and Pastry with the Little Rocker.  I saw the recipe for the checkerboard cookies and suddenly, the spirit moved me (a phrase my parents used to use when I wanted to bake).  As the Little Rocker’s birthday party was coming up, it seemed an ideal opportunity to use the recipe.

Checkerboard Cookies

Let me tell you straight from the start – this recipe is a potchke- (Yiddish for a pain in the tuchus [Yiddish for behind]). Do not start it at 9 pm and expect to go to bed early! (I know this from personal experience.)  But after tasting these cookies when they were done (at 12:30 at night) it was so worth it.  This is basically a chocolate and vanilla sable cookie that melts in your mouth and could only be improved if I had used real butter instead of margarine.

The first thing I had to do was reduce the amounts in the recipe.  This cookbook is really made for the professional pastry chef and the amounts correspond to that need.  I don’t need 10 dozen cookies.  All my hard work would go down the drain if all those cookies were lying around the house.  I decided to cut the recipe in half to make life easier.  Another fun difference in the cookbook is that all the amounts are listed in weights and not cups to make the measurements more precise (how many egg yolk is 227 grams?).  So I decided that if the recipe would be professional then I would be professional and organize everything ahead of time – get my mise en place together before starting.

Here are the ingredients for the vanilla cookie dough:

Here are the ingredients for the chocolate cookie dough:

My mise was placed.

Notice that there is no leavening agent in either dough – no baking powder or baking soda – these cookies do not rise and that helps them stay together during baking.

Then you have to chill the dough until it is firm enough to roll out and not be sticky.  I froze the divided dough to save time and went to shower and put the Little Rocker to bed – all hail multi-tasking!

Two dough squares, one vanilla and one chocolate.

The next step is to roll out the two chocolate rounds of dough and two of the vanilla rounds.  Then brush water between the layers and gently press them together (vanilla, chocolate, vanilla, chocolate).  And chill the dough again.

Brushing on the water,
and stacking the layers.

The next step is to slide the square of stacked doughs into thin long strips, cutting down through the layers.  Then (I told you this was a potchke) stack the slices one on top of the other, flipping every other strip around so that the vanilla is on top of the chocolate, etc. (This is a lot clearer to see than to explain).  I did three layers of strips, but I think you are supposed to be able to do four.

Stacks of alternating layers. Because the width of my layers was uneven, they colors were not 100% lined up.

Then (I’m telling you, these instructions just go on) chill the dough again.  Meanwhile help your husband organize his comic books into the new comic book boxes that your brother almost violated by trying to pack up your parent’s house into them.  These are also the same boxes that certain redheads that will remain unnamed, refused to take in her suitcase as she did not see the point of bringing empty boxes on a plane – see Certain Redhead, they are important!

After organizing a few hundred comics and opening up shelf space for hubbie’s new schoolbooks, go back to your chillin’ cookies (see how I made them cool there?)

Roll out the remaining frozen vanilla doughs into a thin rectangle.  Lay one stack of layered strips on the vanilla dough and carefully roll it over so that the vanilla cookie dough covers the entire stack.  Trim the excess and repeat with the other stacks of dough strips.  I had extra vanilla dough (mostly because I did not divide the dough evenly into four sections – I probably should have done three sections?  Not sure about that.  Either way, I made a batch of regualr square vanilla sables with the leftover dough.

Now that your stacks are nicely stacked and wrapped and you are so proud of yourself for getting this far, you need to chill the dough again! By chance I happened to bake the scraps of the dough before the rest of it and I noticed that the dough melted into the pan and lost all its shape.  It being already 11:15 or so, I was really hyper and started dancing around the kitchen before a weirded-out Rocker Dude trying to figure out what to do.  Then it hit me – chill the dough! And with a fist pump and half-spin, I proceeded to put the cookies back in the refrigerator (my freezer was way too overpacked for this).

Ready to be baked.

After about 20 minutes, I took out the first stack and sliced it into cookies to be placed on the cookie sheet – another trick here – wipe off the knife after every slice to reduce the chocolate smearing into the vanilla – it’s not perfect but it helps a lot. Bake cookies for 15 minutes while preparing goody bags and washing the dinner dishes.  Place on a cooling rack to chill again, and taste the most awesome cookies ever!  The CIA sure does know how to bake!

Recipe (from Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft):

Vanilla Dough:

501 g cake flour

400 g butter, cold, cut into small cubes

190 g confectioner’s sugar

pinch of salt

3 g orange zest, grated ( I used lemon)

113 g egg yolks (about 5)

5 mL vanilla extract

Chocolate Dough:

210 g cake flour

43 g cocoa powder

150 g butter, cold, cut into cubes

95 g confectioners’ sugar

1.5 g orange zest, grated ( I used lemon)

pinch of salt

55 g egg yolks (about 3)

2.5 mL vanilla extract

To make the vanilla dough, sift the flour.  Cream together the butter, sugar, salt and orange zest in a mixer, about 8 minutes.  Gradually add the egg yolks and vanilla, mixing until fully incorporated after each addition and scraping down as needed.  Mix in the sifted flour until just incorporated.

Divide the vanilla dough into four pieces.  Form each piece into a square and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate the dough until firm enough to roll (or freeze if you are in rush).

To make the chocolate dough, Sift the flour and cocoa powder together.  Cream the butter, sugar, orange zest and salt together, about 6-8 minutes.  Gradually add the egg yolks and vanilla, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Mix in the dry ingredients until just incorporated.

Divide the chocolate dough into two parts, form each into a square and refrigerate until firm enough to roll (or freeze).

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of vanilla dough into a 6×4 inch rectangle that is about 1/4 inch thick.  Set aside.  Roll out a piece of the chocolate dough to the same dimensions.  Brush the vanilla dough lightly with water and gently press the chocolate layer on top of the vanilla square.  Repeat with another vanilla piece and another chocolate piece.  You should have four layers all together.

Wrap the layered dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze until firm.

Trim the edges of the layered dough to even them out.  Cut the square into stacks about 1/4 inch thick.  Then 4 layers on top of each other (I did only three), alternating them so that the doughs form a checkerboard.

Roll out one piece on vanilla dough to about 1/8 inch thickness.  Brush the vanilla dough with water and place one of the slacks on the dough.  Gently roll up the vanilla dough around the stack, pressing lightly on each side so that the doughs stick together.  Smooth the overlap and cut off the excess dough.  Repeat with the remaining stacks.

Refrigerate all the stacks until firm.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F or 177 degrees C.

Slice each stack into cookies, about 1/4 inch thick, wiping down the knife between each slice.  Place the cookies on a parchment paper lined cookies sheet and bake for about 15 minutes until lightly browned.  Transfer to racks and cool completely.

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