This checkerboard cookie recipe is not as hard as it looks!
I first learned how to make checkerboard cookies one Christmas but it was such a hit that friends and family asked for them again just three months later! Since they don't look especially Christmassy but still dazzle everyone, I obliged. I also wanted to perfect my technique and tweak the flavor and texture while trying to get them done and out of the oven in a much shorter time.
You decide how good they should look
The traditional method of making these vanilla and chocolate checkerboard cookies involves quite a few time consuming steps that I prefer cutting out. I don't think a perfect looking black and white checkerboard pattern is absolutely necessary for this cookie to be a success. Mind you, this is not just a simple scoop and drop on the sheet cookie recipe! You will need quite a bit of time making them and allowing the dough to rest in the fridge at various stages, so plan ahead.
Do part of the work ahead of time!
Since these cookies require a bit of effort and time, you can make the formed checkerboard logs ahead of time and freeze them using cling wrap. I often make several small logs and defrost them one at a time overnight in the fridge. Slice up the cookies, bake and eat them up in a few days! These cookies do keep in an airtight container for 2-3 weeks, but they taste best in the first few days. When it's Christmas time, I do a big batch to make them a part of my cookie exchange. They always dazzle recipients no matter what time of year!
Change up the pattern
You can use the same recipe to make pinwheel cookies too! You just need to make one rectangle of chocolate and one of vanilla, with one just a little bit longer than the other. The shorter one goes on top of the other and you roll them tightly together to form a pinwheel log to slice into cookies.
- Serves: Makes anywhere from 80 to 100 cookies, depending on their size
- Prep Time: 2 hrs
- Total Time: At least 6 hrs, preferably 24 hrs
- Level of Difficulty: Medium
- 5.5 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 4 sticks or 2 cups of unsalted butter at room temperature + a little extra melted
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- Electric whisk
- Rolling pin
- Parchment paper
- Measuring scale
- Cling wrap
- Pizza wheel. A long blade knife will do in a pinch, but a wheel makes cutting the strips of dough much easier.
- Chef's knife
- A cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mats
- Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together.
- Beat the sugar and butter together in a large bowl using an electric whisk. It should take about 5 minutes to get it light and fluffy.
- Beat in the eggs ones at a time along with the vanilla extract.
- Add the flour mixture a little at a time while mixing. You'll probably have to abandon the mixer and use your hands or a wooden spoon as the dough comes together. Be careful not to over mix the dough as that can lead to the cookies becoming dense and chewy instead of light.
- Divide the dough into two, making one portion slightly smaller than the other.
- Knead the cocoa powder and a little of the melted butter into the smaller batch of dough. Keep adding a little more butter until the texture is the same as that of the plain vanilla portion.
- Divide the vanilla and chocolate portions in half.
- Get your cling wrap ready and roll each of the four portions of dough into thick rectangles. Wrap each in the cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to a day.
- Before you're ready to start working on forming the cookies, leave the 4 portions out for about 20 minutes to let them soften enough to be rolled out. You'll be making two checkerboard logs, using one chocolate portion and one vanilla portion for each log, so leave two of the portions in the fridge until you've completed half the process for the first log.
- To make rolling and lifting the dough easy, do the rest of the work on two large sheets of parchment paper instead of on a board or the counter. Lightly flour the paper and your rolling pin. Do this very sparingly because if your dough gets too dry, you'll need to brush the surfaces with water to form the checkerboard log. If you keep the dough moist you'll save a lot of time with the next steps.
- First roll out a portion of chocolate dough into a rectangle about 12 by 5 inches. Keep the thickness about 1/2 inch. If you're experienced enough working with dough, you can do this by just using a measuring scale. it doesn't have to be perfect, as you
can trim off rough edges later. If not, measure out the boundaries on another sheet of parchment paper and cut out a rectangle. Place this on the the rolled out portion and using the pizza wheel or long blade knife, cut around the edges. Do the same with one of the vanilla portions on the other parchment paper.
- At this point, check to see if each of the rectangles are moist enough to stick to each other while forming the checkerboard pattern. If not, that means the dough is too dry and will need a little help. Otherwise you're good to go to the next step. To moisten, take a little water in a bowl and using a pastry brush, lightly brush it onto the top of the vanilla rectangle.
- Gently lift the parchment holding the chocolate rectangle and overturn it onto the vanilla rectangle. Adjust them so that the edges match.
- Cling wrap this stack and place in the fridge for 2 hours. This firms up the stack and makes it easier to work with.
- Remove the stack and using the pizza wheel, cut 8 strips of equal width along the long sides of the stacked rectangles.
- Brush some water on the top and along the sides of each stack.
- Starting with the second strip and continuing with every even numbered strip, gently pick it up and place it on top of the previous strip, which will be the odd numbered strips. You should now have 4 stacks consisting of 4 strips each.
- Next, turn over the second and fourth stack so that the chocolate and vanilla strips alternate to form the pattern.
- Bring all four stacks together and gently add pressure along all side and on the top to form one long log.
- Cling wrap the log and leave in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. You can also freeze the logs at this point if you wrap them well. Before you're ready to bake the cookies, leave them to defrost in the fridge overnight.
- Repeat the whole process above with the other two chocolate and vanilla portions to create a second log.
- When it's time to bake, preheat the oven to 350° F and place the rack in the center.
- Using a sharp chef's knife, cut 1/2 inch slices of the cookie logs and place them about 1 inch apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. When one batch is done, just lift out the baking paper or mat and place a new mat on the cookie sheet to immediately bake the next batch.
- Bake for about 11-12 minutes or until they're firm to the touch. Be careful not to let them brown or the contrast between white and brown won't be so nice.
- Let the cookies cool a bit before transferring to a rack or plate. Allow them to cool completely before transferring to an airtight container.
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