Monday, December 10, 2012

Checkerboard Cookies

I have always been fascinated by the checkerboard cookies. Well, at least when I was a child anyways. They look so geometrically correct, which, if you happened to be extremely interested in math and science as a child, you would really fall in love with the construction of something so symmetrically correct. Did I just lose you right there?

Anyhow, making checkerboard cookies have not crossed my mind in ages since I preferred the lazy ways of drop cookies. Hey, in an era where many do not cook, let alone bake, I consider myself pretty darn good for keeping the cooking and baking from scratch tradition alive. No apologies there.

For my first attempt, I started with a small batch, which was a HUGE mistake. Had I known then that the process is going to be so tedious, I would have made a bigger batch, just so I have a lot of dough to freeze. They will be my thaw and bake cookies for emergency purposes or Christmas.

Speaking of which, the urge to bake something new started with the dawn of the merry season. So many pre-Christmas parties to go to and I hate the fact to show up empty handed. Part of me would love to do that, would kill to be able to let myself to do that. Nope, not gonna happen this lifetime. So, off to baking we go.

Checkerboard Cookies Recipe
Makes about 3 dozens

1 cup of butter, softened
1/2 cup of sugar
1 tsp of vanilla
2 1/2 cup of flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp of Cocoa Powder or melted chocolate, depending on what you have in your pantry

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add in vanilla extract and continue to beat for another minute.

 2. Add in flour gradually, and mix till a dough is formed. Divide filling into two portions. Take out one portion and place it on a sheet of plastic wrap. Shape dough into a 8 by 12 rectangle. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator.

3. To the remaining dough in the mixer, add in the cocoa powder. Mix till it is well combined. Repeat the process to shape dough into a rectangle. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator till dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

4. Once dough has set, unwrap the two dough on a work counter layered with a fresh piece of plastic wrap. Place the white dough on the base. Top with the chocolate dough. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and press to ensure the two dough adhere to each other.

5. If dough softened at this time, place it back into the refrigerator for 30 minutes till it is firm again. You do not want to work with the dough if it has softened. The color will combined together and you will be left with a swirl cookie dough instead of checkerboard.

6. When dough is firm enough to work with, trim off the edges of the dough so you will have perfect square edges. We are vying for 90-degree angle at every corners.This is when all those years studying math comes in handy. Remember exponent? Well, even if you don't, trust me, math comes in handy at this point. Makes it easier for one to visualize what is going to happen next in order to get the checkerboard pattern. It is nothing more than a 3x3 or a 4x4 matrix that we are shooting for. I hope I have not lost you yet. Please bear with me, this system will make the checkerboard cookies making experience a whole lot easier compared to stacking the cookie dough strip-by-strip.

7. We start out by cutting the stacked cookie dough in half, lengthwise. The dough needs to be long. Stack the opposite color on top each other, preferably cut side to cut side, that gives you the perfect 90 degree angle, or close to it. Now you have a brown and white, brown and white stack. That is good.

8. Next, you will want to measure out the longer length of the dough. Divide the diameter of the strips equally. You need at least 12 or 16 strips altogether, again depending on the final measurements of your dough. I promise, this is easier in reality than trying to explain it in words.

9. Stack the strips in alternating colors. You can do either a block of 3 strips or 4 strips, depending on how many strips you manage to cut out from your dough.

10. Once you have stack them together, wrap the log in plastic wrap.  If you have leftover dough like I do, simply roll it out into a flat piece.

Wrap the log of dough with the leftover cookie dough. This is a good trick to salvage whichever strip of dough that threatens to fall apart on you.Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before baking.

11. When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F. Slice cookie dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Bake for 9-11 minutes till bottom is golden brown and cookie is set. Bake any longer, and the color will just combine and you will lose the checkerboard pattern which you have worked so hard to achieve. Let cool to room temperature on a wire rack before storing or you can eat one right away as soon as it sets.

a) This recipe can easily be doubled. I used my standard shortbread cookies recipe as I like the buttery light cookie dough. I did not use any egg wash or water to bind the stacks together.

b) As long as you press them together firmly before refrigeration, the stacks should stick together. If you feel more comfortable using egg wash to bind the layers together, feel free to do so.

c) Just remember, never ever ever work with the dough if it softens too much. Just wrap it in plastic, put it back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes till it firms up before working with the dough again.

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