Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Checkerboard Cookies

Today I sat down... well, I stood up and made my first official batch of holiday cookies.

Checkerboard shortbread cooies are just beautiful. I was inspired by the mouthwatering picture from Il Forno, though I did not use the same recipe he did. Why? To prove a point. My aunt told me once that it was almost not worth attempting any of Marth Stewart's recipes because they are notoriously difficult. So, of course I used her recipe, which "she" assures the reader is not difficult.
I had no problems at all making this recipe, though I can see how someone could have serious problems if they are unable to cut in a straight line. The only substitution I made was almond extract in place of lemon. It also made about 6 dozen cookies for me. Here's Martha's recipe:

Checkerboard Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen
Though they look complicated, these tender cookies are easy to make if you use a ruler. To ensure an even design, measure the strips of dough carefully. The dough can be made a day or two in advance and refrigerated, or frozen for several weeks.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure lemon extract (or almond)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 large egg

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until well blended, 1 to 2 minutes. Add vanilla extract, lemon extract, and salt. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, scraping down sides of bowl.

2. Turn dough out onto a clean work surface; it will be loose and crumbly. Knead dough by pushing small amounts away from you with the heel of your hand for 1 to 2 minutes. Divide dough in half. Sprinkle cocoa powder over one of the halves. Knead until cocoa has been fully incorporated.

3. Place each half of the kneaded dough between two sheets of plastic. Using a rolling pin, shape dough into two 7-inch squares, about 3/8 inch thick. Using a sharp knife and a ruler, slice each square into nine 3/4-inch-wide strips.

4. Whisk together the egg and 1 tablespoon water. Cover work surface with plastic wrap. Place three strips of dough on plastic, alternating white and chocolate strips. Brush tops and in between the strips with egg wash. Gently press strips together. Repeat, forming second and third layers, alternating colors to create a checkerboard effect. Wrap assembled log in plastic. Repeat process for second log, reversing color pattern. Refrigerate 30 minutes, or freeze 15 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 350°; line a baking sheet with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper. Slice each log into 1/4-inch-thick slices; place on baking sheet. Bake until done, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven, and let cookies cool 2 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Store cookies in an airtight container up to 2 days.

I will definately make these again. They're very impressive (not to mention tasty)! And once the logs are assembled, they can be stored in the freezer and sliced at any time.
I boxed up most of my batch and mailed it today, so hopefully my aunt will enjoy them, too.