I get many requests for my Checkerboard Cookies. Why? The conventional route would be to use cocoa powder for the chocolate dough. I don’t. Instead, I use 70% minimum cocoa, bittersweet chocolate to achieve the ultimate chocolaty taste with every bite. Then, I add almonds to give the cookies an extra rich mouth feel. They are so good that I recently nibbled my way through 21 crisp cookies in one sitting! 

Dog keeping watch over cookies.

You have probably figured out that these cookies take some time to prepare.The good news is you can triple the recipe, freeze them and bake at your leisure.

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Checkerboard Cookies

Prep:

30 minutes for dough; 30 minutes to assemble and cut dough

Cook:

10 to 12 minutes per tray 

Inactive:

4 hours or more for dough to firm up in refrigerator. 30 minutes X 5 to refrigerate and firm up dough at various stages of assembly.

Level:

Dough is easy. Assembling dough into checkerboard pattern can be challenging. Follow my recipe and tips and you will be fine. 

Makes:

101 Checkerboard Cookies, 63 random, odd shaped ones. 

Oven Temperature:

350F (175C) Gas Mark 4

Can recipe be doubled?

Yes

Make ahead?

Baked cookies keep well up to 10 days. Just be sure cookies are baked through until crisp. These are not meant to be soft cookies.

Assembled dough logs can be wrapped in individual parchment papers, kept in a sealed container and frozen up to 2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator until suitable for slicing and bake as per the instructions.         

Ingredients

9 oz (255g) unsalted butter softened
9 oz (255g) caster/granulated sugar
6 oz (170g) 70% bittersweet chocolate*
6.7 oz (190g) finely ground almonds
3.9 oz (110g) finely ground almonds
15.2 oz (430g) all-purpose/plain flour
3/4  teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt**
2 eggs***
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* I use Valrhona -Guanaja 70% cocoa minimum, pure cocoa butter or Scharffenberger 70% bittersweet chocolate bar.
** Omit if using salted butter.
*** One egg (1/4 cup)(2 and 1/4oz)(53g) for dough mix. One egg for brushing on dough.

Method

Please note that the instructions for this recipe is wordy. There are quite a few assembly steps involved. You do not want to go crazy wondering what you have to do next. Once you bake these a few times, you would no longer need to refer so closely to the instructions.  

Melting the chocolate using the microwave
1. In a medium size bowl, break chocolate into smaller pieces and melt chocolate in microwave at medium-hi for 2 minutes. Stir. Microwave another 1 to 2 minutes. Stir to help melt any remaining chunks of chocolate in the residual heat. I do not bother to break up my thick and chunky chocolate.
2. If you use smaller sized chocolates, shorten your microwave time accordingly. Better to leave some chunks to melt in the residual heat then to leave it in the microwave to melt completely and risk burning them into a grainy mess. Cool.

Melting the chocolate over the stove
1. Have a pot and a heatproof bowl ready. The bowl should fit into the pot snugly and sit about 2 and 1/2″ off the bottom of the pot. Fill the saucepan with 1 and a 1/2″ of water. The idea is to not have the bottom of the bowl touch the water.
2. Bring the water in the pot to simmer. Then, add broken up chocolate into the bowl and place it over the pot.  Stir to help chocolate melt. When almost all of the chocolate has melted, remove bowl from the pot. Stir to melt remaining chocolate pieces. I do not leave the chocolate to melt completely in the pot as if I leave it too long on the heat, it might burn and turn into a grainy mess. Cool.

The dough
1. Mix flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
2. Beat butter and sugar in your mixer at medium speed. 2 minutes into beating, stop mixer and give batter a quick stir to ensure even mixing. Remember to scrape the bottom of bowl too. Turn on the mixer and continue for another 1 to 2 minutes. Batter should be light coloured and fluffy.
3. With the mixer at lowest speed, add half of the 1 egg. Mix one minute, then, stop the machine, give batter a few quick stirs to ensure even mixing.
4. Start mixer at lowest speed again and pour in remaining egg and vanilla essence. Continue mixing on low for 1 minute. Stop machine and scrape bowl.  Mix again on low for just 30 seconds.
5. It should take you no longer then 2 minutes to incorporate all the flour. Any longer and you will have overworked the dough and might get tough cookies.
6. With mixer at low-medium speed, add heaping 1/2 cup of flour. After 10 seconds, add the next heaping 1/2 cup of flour and let the mixer mix it for 10 seconds. Stop machine. Quickly and lightly, scrape bottom and sides of bowl to incorporate flour.
7. Repeat this process another 2X.
8. The cookie dough should now be formed.

For butter/almond dough:
1. Remove ~ 1.2 lb (560g) (~ 2 and 1/2 cups) of dough from mixer into a medium sized bowl. Leave remaining dough in the mixer bowl and set aside for the moment.
2. Into the dough that you just removed, mix in 3.9 oz (110g) ground almonds. Do not stir but slash through and fold almonds in. If it feels dry, add 1 Tablespoon beaten egg and mix in.
3. Wrap in plastic wrap shaped into a square. This makes it easier to roll into a rectangle. Refrigerate 4 hours or until it firms up.
For chocolate/almond dough:
1. Mix 6.7 oz (190g) ground almonds into cooled melted chocolate. Pour this into the mixer bowl where the remaining dough is sitting.
2. If using a KitchenAid, switch to the flat beater. With mixer at low-medium speed, mix for 30 seconds. Stop machine and use a spatula to incorporate any remaining streaks of butter dough. If incorporating by hand, slash through and fold dough until evenly mixed. If it feels fry, add 1 Tablespoon beaten egg and mix in.
3. Wrap in plastic wrap shaped into a square. Refrigerate 4 hours or until it firms up.

Assembling the dough:
Have the following items ready:

  1. Rolling pin
  2. Ruler, preferably a long one
  3. 2 pieces of parchment paper, at least 14″ by 10″ (36 cm by 24 cm)
  4. 2 baking trays that will fit the parchment papers
  5. Knife, bench scraper or pizza wheel for cutting dough
  6. Plastic wrap to wrap dough scraps

Rolling & refrigerating dough into 2 rectangle sheets: 1 butter & 1 chocolate (you will perform this process 2x)
1. Lay 1 piece of parchment paper on your work surface.

2. Remove the firm butter dough from the refrigerator.

3. Unwrap butter dough and place it on the parchment paper. Spread the plastic wrap that was used to wrap the butter dough over the dough. You will be rolling directly on the plastic wrap. This prevents the dough from sticking to your rolling pin and you will not need to flour anything.

4. Gently roll dough into a rectangle that is slightly larger then 9 and 7/8″ by 6 and 1/4″ (25 cm by 16cm).  The dough should be 3/8″ (1 cm) thick. Place the parchment paper with the rolled dough (still with the plastic wrap over it) on baking tray and refrigerate 30 minutes or until firm.

5. Do exactly the same process for the chocolate dough.

6. After firming up in the refrigerator, remove the firm butter dough.

7. Lift the parchment paper with the dough and plastic wrap off the tray and onto your work surface. Without removing the plastic wrap, use the ruler and blunt side of knife to gently outline dough to measure 9 and 7/8″ by 6 and 1/4″ (25 cm by 16cm). Remove the plastic wrap.

8. Using the knife/bench scraper/pizza wheel, follow the outline you have made to cut through the dough.

9. Gather up dough scraps, wrap them in a new sheet of plastic wrap and set aside on your work surface.

10. Reuse the plastic wrap that was used earlier and cover the rectangle dough that you have just cut with it. Transfer this plastic covered piece of rectangle dough on its parchment paper back to baking tray and refrigerate 30 minutes or until it firms up.

11. Do exactly the same process for the chocolate dough. You can gather the chocolate dough scraps and put them together with the butter dough scraps. Refrigerate dough scraps.

12. Do not be tempted to work on dough until they are completely firmed up. You do not want to be handling limp and sticky dough.  It is very difficult to work with it. It will not hold its shape and you will end up with a mess and have to shove it back in the refrigerator to firm up anyway. Just make yourself a cup of tea and relax.

Building up the checkerboard pattern
When butter and chocolate dough are firmed up, have the following items ready:

  1. Ruler, preferably a long one.
  2. Knife. I like to use my chopper for this as it has an even width blade and I can lift the sliced dough with it and do away with the bench scraper.
  3. Bench scraper
  4. Pastry brush
  5. 1 beaten egg for egg wash
  6. 7 pieces of parchment paper, cut at least 14″ by 12″ (36cm by 30cm)

1. Be careful as you slice, separate, assemble and work on the dough. The layers might shift because of the slippery egg wash.

2. After firming up in the refrigerator, remove butter and chocolate dough. Remove the plastic wraps. Lift the two dough on their parchment papers off their trays and lay dough alongside each other on work surface. Brush the butter dough with egg wash.


3. Lay the chocolate dough on the butter dough. Now you have 1 rectangle block with 2 layers: chocolate; butter.

4. With a ruler along the breadth of one side of the dough, measure the midpoint. It should be 3 and 1/8″ (8 cm). Mark lightly with a knife. Also mark the midpoint of the breadth on the other end.

5. Have the ruler to line up against the 3 and 1/8″ (8 cm) markers you have made, then cut and divide the dough into two. You will have 2 rectangle blocks with 2 layers: chocolate; butter.

6. Brush the top of only 1 of the 2 rectangles with egg wash. Use your bench scraper to help you lift the other (‘un-egg washed’) rectangle block onto the egg washed rectangle. You would have 1 rectangle block with 4 layers: chocolate; butter; chocolate; butter.

7. Estimate and cut the 4-layered dough lengthwise into 2 shorter blocks. Now you have 2 rectangle blocks with 4 layers: chocolate; butter; chocolate; butter.

8. Wrap separately in parchment papers (no need to secure the ends), place on tray and refrigerate 30 minutes or until firm.

9. After firming up in the refrigerator, remove 1 rectangle block from the refrigerator. Unwrap dough on your work surface but have dough sitting on the parchment paper.

10. Using a ruler, mark 3/8″ (1 cm) intervals at the shorter end of the rectangle.

11. With the knife, slice off the first 3/8″ (1 cm), lay on its side and brush with egg wash.

12. Slice the next 3/8″ (1cm) and lay this over the first slice, making sure that you have alternating layers of butter and chocolate slices resembling a checkerboard/chessboard. Continue to stack until you reach 4 layers.

13. Wrap with new sheet of parchment paper, no need to secure the ends, place on tray and refrigerate 30 minutes or until firm.

14. Repeat this process with the remaining half block of dough that is on your work surface.

15. Now, you should have 2 Checkerboard Cookie blocks sitting  and firming up in the refrigerator.

16. Remove the remaining uncut block of dough from the refrigerator. Repeat the process for stacking them.

17. At the end of the entire assembly process, you should have 4 Checkerboard Cookie blocks firming up in the refrigerator.

18. Remember the dough scraps collected earlier? Remove from the refrigerator. Use the last piece of parchment paper to shape scraps into log. This log would inevitably end up with a marbled look and be oval in shaped when sliced.

19. Chill all the dough until thoroughly firmed up before slicing.

Baking

1. Turn on the oven to 350F (175C) (Gas Mark 4). Oven rack adjusted to lower middle position so that cookies do not brown too quickly. Remove one Checkerboard Cookie log from the refrigerator and cut into 1/8″ (0.3 cm) slices. Place cut dough on lightly greased or parchment paper lined baking sheets. I use my Silpats. They should be placed 1/2″ (1.25 cm) apart.

2. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. At 7 minutes, open the oven door, pull baking sheet out and rotate it back side front to ensure even baking. Continue baking. Watch the cookies as they can brown very quickly.  You want to take them out when they are very slightly browned. You do not want them golden brown as you want to try and keep the pale butter colour.

3. Once baked, allow cookies to cool for 5 minutes on baking trays before removing to cool completely on wire racks. Do not remove from baking tray any sooner or you risk breaking your cookies as they are fragile while hot. Store in airtight containers.

4. Repeat the process for the remaining 3 Checkerboard Cookie blocks and the log of dough scraps.

Tips

(1) Work on this recipe over a weekend. If you rush through it, you are likely to get frazzled and the whole enjoyment of baking these pretty cookies will be lost. I usually spread the work out over 2 to 3 days.
(2) If your dough gets too dry after adding almonds, work in a little beaten egg. Humidity in your area can play a part in how the dough turns out.
(3) If your dough feels too sticky, add a little more almonds.
(4) Do what I do when I just want to eat these cookies and cannot be bothered to assemble them. Simply roll the butter and chocolate dough separately into rough logs. Then wedge them together and roll into a single log. Wrap in plastic wrap, refrigerate until firm before slicing. You will get half moons of butter and chocolate upon slicing them. Simpler still is to wedge the butter and chocolate dough together and roll into one log. You will get a ‘marbled’ look upon slicing them.
(5) These make welcome gifts especially during the festive season.

WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT?

It is time to go back to a savoury recipe. We are still on the English Afternoon Tea Menu menu. So I will be posting recipes for tea sandwiches. Looking in my refrigerator, I found smoked salmon and a beautiful roll of beef tenderloin. Suffice to say, I will be posting the recipes for Smoked Salmon With Dill Butter Tea Sandwiches and Roast Beef With Beetroot Tea Sandwiches.

Find out how I roast the beef tenderloin and keep that middle circle nice and pink. Roasting beetroot till they are as sweet as they can possible be is really simple.

I will post the recipes for Crisp Cucumber Tea Sandwiches, Egg and Cress Tea Sandwiches, Ham with Honey Butter Tea Sandwiches and the Classic Victoria Sponge Cake thereafter. I did post the Sweet Milk Scones recipe just recently. Looks like I will be enjoying another round of English Afternoon Tea soon. Time to invite a few more people around again.

Top plate: Classic Victoria Sponge Cake sandwich with strawberry jam and buttercream icing, Checkerboard Cookies, Sweet Milk Scones.
Bottom layer of sandwiches from left to right: Roast Beef with Beetroot Tea SandwichesSmoked Salmon with Dill Butter Tea SandwichesHam with Honey Butter Tea Sandwiches.
Top layer of sandwiches from left to right: Egg and Cress Tea Sandwiches,Roast Beef with Beetroot Tea Sandwiches,Crisp Cucumber Tea Sandwiches.

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