Today I sat down (ok, I was standing – but you get the idea) 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, in which she assures the reader that it is not difficult.
And she was right. 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. Basically, you have to chill the dough and measure out strips to form the checks on the shortbread. A ruler will help if you don’t have a steady hand, but as long as you take your time, you shouldn’t have any problems.
The only substitution I made was almond extract in place of lemon. It also made about 6 dozen cookies for me, though Martha promised only 4. 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.
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 large egg
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.
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.
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.
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.
Preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice each log into 1/4-inch-thick slices and place on baking sheet. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, until just browned at the edges. 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.