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Monday, December 18, 2006

Going Boldly Where no Barmy Baker has Gone Before: Checkerboard Cookies (the last of the holiday cookies? Maybe, Maybe not..)

Well, I've done tons of favorite cookies for the Holidays these past few weeks, and I've decided to try out a cookie I've never made before. Sure I've seen it made by classmates when I was in the Baking and Pastry program I attended..well, one classmate, and the cookies were beautiful. I wanted to recreate this beautiful cookie to give out with all the other cookies I've been working on this season. I only hope they taste as good as they look.
I know many people ask why I take the time to make so many varieties of cookies this time of year. "What is the draw? What possesses you to do this? Why would you spend so much time on baked product?". There are many answers. The first being that I love to spread the joy that I feel when I make each cookie and when each turns out beautifully (and I have been blessed with every cookie turning out incredibly this year). Another reason is that I do just love to give, and this is a great excuse to do so. At this time in baking (about a day away from mailing everything) I feel fairly secure in the cookies I have already baked, and know that I have one day left to experiment. So, I am going to try out checkerboard cookies. I have meant to try them out before, but never got around to it (I figure my still being unemployed...sigh...this time of year has given me a bit of time to try them). So, without further yapping and hoo-ha..I bring you:

Checkerboard Cookies (this recipe is from Cookies Unlimited by Nick Malgieri).

First you will need to make two cookie doughs. They are:

French Vanilla Sables: (If you want to avoid washing your mixing bowl twice, then do what I did and mix up these cookies first, then mix up the chocolate ones in the same bowl after you have scraped out the vanilla dough. It won't harm the chocolate cookies, and it helps out with dishes)

12 Tbsps (or 1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temp
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

-Cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for about 4-5 minutes or until the mixture is light in color and fluffy. Add the vanilla and egg yolk, continue beating until smooth , about 2 minutes.
-Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater and add the flour, mix until combined.
-Press the dough into a 1 inch thick square and chill, wrapped, for 3 hours or several days.

Dark Chocolate Sables:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup alkalized (dutch process) cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 stick (8 Tbsps or 4 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
-Combine in a bowl: flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt, stir well to mix, set aside.
-Cream together the sugar and butter for about 4-5 minutes on medium until it is light and fluffly. Then beat in the egg and vanilla for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is smooth.
-Scrape down the bowl and beaters and add the flour mixture. Mix until combined.
-Press the dough into a 1 inch thick square, wrap and chill for a few hours or a few days.

Now that you have your dough made, the fun begins (well, some might call it fun, I might call it tedious...but when I say tedious I mean more time consuming and putzy, not difficult). At this point with the cookies, you will wish you had a dough sheeter, if a dough sheeter wasn't the size of a smart car, or a horse, then it would be on my wish list for it is, we have no room here for a horse, or a dough sheeter. But I digress...

Tedious Checkerboard Cookie directions:

You will need both of the doughs from above, and one egg white to bind the dough together (beaten).

-Remove the vanilla dough from the refrigerator.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into an 8x12 inch rectangle about 3/8 inch thick. Slide the cookie dough onto a cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm again, about 30 minutes. Repeat this step with the chocolate dough.
-Remove the vanilla dough from the fridge again and coat it lightly with the egg white. Slide the chocolate dough on top of the vanilla, place a sheet pan over the top of this and press lightly to adhere the dough together.
-Immediately cut the layered dough in half, making two 8x6 inch rectangles. Paint the top of one rectangle with egg white and place the second one over it so you have 4 layers of alternating chocolate and vanilla dough. Gently press the top of this with a pan, and then chill for several hours before continuing.
-Remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a cutting board. Using a long sharp knife cut the dough along the 6 inch side into 16 - 3/8 inch thick slices.

-Place one piece of the dough, alternating stripes facing upward, on a work surface. Paint the top of it lightly with egg white.
Place another piece of dough on top of this so that vanilla stripes are covering chocolate stripes and vice-a-versa, repeat this, making sure you are alternating colors, until you have a stack of four slices. Repeat with the remaining slices of dough, and you will have four stacks of alternating nummy dough.
-Gently press the sides of the stacks so they are squared off on the sides and wrap and chill these for several hours, they may also be frozen at this point.
-When you are ready to bake these, preheat oven to 350 degrees, slice the cookies 1/4 inch thick and lay them out on sheet pans lined with parchement paper or foil. Bake for about 8 to 12 minutes, or until they become dull in appearance and feel firm to the touch.
-Cool on a rack.
-Put your feet up, proudly gaze at your beautiful little checkered cookies, have an Irish coffee and relax. It is well deserved.

As this is a new recipe for me, I just thought I would share what I noticed: The chocolate dough is a bit stiffer than the vanilla, but a bit easier to work with (not that either dough is very difficult to handle). There seems to be just a smidge more of the chocolate dough than the vanilla, so 3/8 of an inch thick was doable with the chocolate dough, the vanilla I rolled out to a bit over 1/4 inch, this didn't really effect the cookies too much. I also noticed that I had just slightly less than a 12x8 inch rectangle to begin with, but I think I was being more cautious with the rolling. If I make these again, and I believe I will, I think I will make another batch of the chocolate dough so I can wrap a border of it around the cookies. And I must take back what I said about this being tedious. It really wasn't that bad. Time consuming? Yes, if you are planning on starting and completing the cookies on the same day, but you can do them in stages with chilling a day or so between. Are they worth the time? Yes, I believe they are. They are a light cookie with nice flavor and are not as sweet as some festive cookies. What I really am saying is that these are more about looks than substance...maybe more vanilla or using some extract would help. Maybe orange extract in the chocolate dough? Maybe peppermint extract in the vanilla..but still..these are impressive in look if nothing else. Of course, sometimes it is just nice to have a pretty yet mellow cookie to offer amongst all the other very flavorful cookies, it makes for good contrast.

Happy Baking! Happy Holidays!

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Gina said...

These are fantastic. I loved seeing how you did this step-by-step.

You posted them in my Baked Goods group, and thank you for sharing! :)

Sassy said...

Those are beautiful! Maybe if I get ambitious over the Christmas holidays I will attempt them.

Well I appreciate all of the recipes you've posted over the past few weeks. I've passed the link to your blog around to a few friends and they all love it too!

Happy Holidays!!

nicole said...

I'm pretty darn sure that if I tried to do these, it would turn into a disaster! These are absolutely gorgeous cookies, I'm SO impressed!!

Brilynn said...

I made a checkerboard cake once, the layers weren't nearly as neat as your wonderful cookies! Don't stop baking!

Jen the Bread Freak said...

Gina: Thanks! Glad you like them. And always happy to share. It was fun taking photos of them as I went along :D.

Sassy: Thank you much :). These are a good cookie to tackle when you are feeling ambitious, although they didn't seem so bad to me once I got to rolling them out. I am very happy that you have been enjoying my posts! Thank you for sharing the link with your friends :D Happy Holidays back atcha!

Nicole: Thank you very much :D I was worried when I started out, but realized that if they didn't turn out pretty, they would still taste good :). I think I have been very lucky this year with all my cookies (knock on wood for any cookies I haven't made yet).

Brilynn: Ooooh, I've never made a checkerboard cake, I might have to try it sometime in the future. I love the contrast. Keep baking? Eeeeeek! Heehee...I think I am about done, I have to mail all of these to my family today...oh, I should get my butt in gear and package them up! Thank you :D

San Francisco Sweet Tooth said...

A masterful job, Jen. These look perfect enough to be done by Martha Stewart's elves. Alton Brown (my food tv favorite) made something similar last night on his show..a chocolate and vanilla swirl cookie. He got bad reviews which is unusual so I think I will try your idea instead.
Alton is good at a lot of things, but he could learn something from you in the baking department.
Thank you for sharing these entertaining and instructive posts.

Jen the Bread Freak said...

Thank you so much Sweet Tooth :D. Alton is one of my favorites also, I am flattered you think I could give him some tips *blush*. As for Martha Stewart's elves...the poor things are probably worked night and day (although, it would be a job...hmmmm)! I am finding the biggest reward with this blog is the fact that people are actually enjoying it! Thank you for letting me know :D.

Paul said...

Wow! Those cookies are impressive. I've seen the recipes for these and pinwheels (the ones Alton Brown made) but I will try tackling these now that I have your step by step guide. Great job!

Jen the Bread Freak said...

Paul: Thank you! Glad you are going to try these out :). They are a nice simple tasting butter cookie. The instructions did seem daunting to me at first, but I read through them a few times and planned to have a bit of extra time when making these. Definately worth it! Happy holidays :)