Yesterday, for the briefest moments, it started to feel like June for the first time.
It’s the last weekend before I’m done with high school classes forever, but rain has drizzled coolly for the past week. The temperature has dipped into the fifties, the wind has blown pine needles all over our damp cement patio, and the moss is drenched with icy water that seeps into your socks. It’s June, and I’ve worn my red rubber rain boots to school twice.
But yesterday the sun was bright enough to warm up our garden bench, nestled between the spindly apple tree and the velvet plum-purple irises. The sky was the kind of blue that makes you crazy – “turn up the radio” blue, “now pull over and dance” blue. Thin clouds stretched out like ferns, and it made you see the sky’s overwhelming vastness, a rarity in hilly Seattle.
On paper, my Saturday certainly wasn’t memorable. I woke up and drove to a friend’s house to work on our environmental science project. Then I drove home, had lunch, took some photos, and lounged outside all day. Somehow, though, it was one of the most perfect days I’ve had in a long time.
I drove home with music swirling inside the car like a snow globe of sound. I even honked at a cute boy on the sidewalk, and he winked at me as the light turned green. At home, my parents were working on the yard. My dad was up on the ladder, trimming the trees that tower throughout our backyard. My mom brushed up leaves and debris – under her watch, the yard is cleaner than my bedroom. I settled onto the bench and tried to write this post.
But it was so hard to be with a computer screen. I thought about everything but the checkerboard cookies. Like the lunch we’d had. Mom had made avocado and sundried tomato egg rolls, creamy and chewy and crisp. Dad came up with a cool Sriracha dipping sauce. I made a strawberry salad with home-grown chocolate-mint, lemon, and dark chocolate shavings. It’s a meal I’ll remember someday in college when I’m longing for home, with nothing to eat but a bruised apple.
I almost began to write something for 17 and Baking, but then the laptop died. And I could have moved inside, plugged it in, and typed it up at the dinner room table. But I closed the screen and pulled out my macro lens instead. I photographed the spidery veins of leaves, the peachy curve of a lily, and the tattoo of woodpecker drills circling up a tree. I stayed outside with my skin as sun-warmed as our garden bench until twilight fell.
This morning I woke up to the sound of splashing raindrops on our roof. I poured myself some cereal and looked outside – our stone path was dark mahogany and black, in the way that wet rock always looks richer. All of our plants were slick and alive. They stood up taller, leaves fanned out and saturated with color, quenched. When I opened the door and took a quick walk outside, it smelled green. Somehow, the rain didn’t seem so bad.
Now I’m bundled in a fleece blanket, curled on the rocking chair, typing this. It’s been too long since my last post, I know. But there is too much beauty in my life right now, in my family, in the garden, even in the moments of silence. These are the times I don’t want to forget, down to the last drop. Even now, though the sky is like white paint and the house is cold as a carton of milk, life is perfect. I didn’t do much this weekend, but the little things are making it extraordinary. The little things are essential to remember.
I’ve made these checkerboard cookies a total of four times – they’re that good. The first time I made them, the checkerboard pattern wasn’t quite even, but the taste! Buttery, a little crisp, a little chewy, and an indescribable flavor that came together like magic. I photographed the cookies, but I didn’t like them. I made them again a month later, but the texture wasn’t right. I’d somehow messed up. A third time, and they were still off. I’d messed up somewhere, and the wheels didn’t all align.
But today, all the little things came together. My butter was at just the right temperature, soft enough to yield to a fingertip but cold enough to keep its shape. I used a ruler to form the checkerboard pattern and though it isn’t perfect, I almost like the imperfection. And the photographs? The lighting was off the first three times. Yesterday I used the dragonfly-wing light on our kitchen counter and it was just right.
It’s rare for me to make a recipe multiple times, but I know I’ll make these cookies again before summer finishes. As simple as they are, they’re unforgettable.
[PS: I know it's been a while since my last post. The last week of school, and it's catching up to me with finals and projects. Won't happen again over the summer!
Also, since I'm getting a lot of questions about it, I wanted to talk about college. Unfortunately, I can't reveal which school I'm going to (at least at this time.) It's simply an issue of privacy. Here's what I can say, though - it's a great school for communications in BOSTON! and I'll study to become a print journalist and writer, just like I always dreamed. In August, I'll move into my dorm and 17 and Baking will continue like always, from the City on a Hill. I'm starting to miss Seattle already, but I can barely contain my excitement about this next big step in my life. Thanks for sticking with me!]
These are one of my all time favorite cookies. The dough is so simple to make, and the checkerboard pattern, though it does take a bit of practice, isn’t too hard. Once you’ve got the logs, the cookies are a snap to slice and bake. The result is incredibly impressive. People gasp when I open the cookie tin for them. The cookies are more than a pretty face, though. Sometimes when I’m feeling lazy I just cut the dough into squares and bake them. You can slice them thicker, for a slightly softer cookie with crunchy borders, or slice them thin for crispier cookies. I’m normally a chewy cookie person, but I love these thin too.
It’s also worth mentioning that I LOVE this cookie dough! I almost, almost like it more than the baked cookie. This recipe makes a lot of cookies – 8 dozen, because it’s easier to work with a large amount of dough – and yet I still sometimes snack on too much dough. It’s always hard for me to save up enough dough to wrap around the checkerboard pattern for the solid border. If you think you won’t be able to work with 8 dozen cookies, don’t worry, you will. If you can’t eat them all, you can also freeze the logs and thaw them in the fridge overnight prior to slicing and baking.
It’s a little tricky to explain how to make. If you check out the original recipe on Baking Obsession, Vera kindly draws a diagram to explain the process.
From Baking Obsession
Makes 8 dozen cookies
5 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 lb (2 cups or 4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and then the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed to just combine (you might want to cover the mixer with a towel, some flour might come up.) Finish the mixing either with your hands or a wooden spoon, being sure not to overmix.
Divide the dough in two. You want these to be as even as possible, so I weigh my dough. It’s usually around 25 oz dough in each half. Knead the cocoa powder into one half of the dough. Divide each flavor in half for four total balls of dough, two chocolate and two vanilla. Form each into a rectangle, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 2 hours (up to a day, but it tastes better if you only wait 2 hours.)
Take one portion of chocolate and one portion of vanilla out of the fridge. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes to soften. On parchment paper or a lightly floured surface, with a floured rolling pin, roll out the vanilla dough into a 12″ by 5″ rectangle. Using a pizza wheel, knife, or bench scraper, cut the rectangle into nine strips, each 1/2″ thick. Repeat the process with the chocolate dough.
Form two checkerboard logs: delicately alternate chocolate and vanilla strips to form a three by three square. One log should go: vanilla chocolate vanilla, chocolate vanilla chocolate, vanilla chocolate vanilla. The other log should be chocolate vanilla chocolate, vanilla chocolate vanilla, chocolate vanilla chocolate. Press into the sides to make it as even a square as possible. Wrap with parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours.
Afterwards, roll the remaining vanilla portion into a rectangle of 12″ by 6″, about 1/3″ thick. Take the log with 4 strips of vanilla and wrap the dough around it to form an even border. Roll the log to press it in and define the corners. Repeat with the chocolate dough and the remaining log. Wrap the logs in parchment or plastic and refrigerate well, preferably overnight. You can also freeze them, then thaw overnight in the fridge when ready to bake.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat. Using a very sharp knife, slice the cookie-dough log into ¼-inch thick slices. Place on the prepared baking sheet leaving about 1 inch all way around them. Bake the cookies, in batches, for about 12 minutes until firm and golden brown on the bottom. Don’t let them bake for too long, or the color contrast between the chocolate and vanilla dough will be lost. Cool on the baking sheet on a rack for 15 minutes. Then transfer the cookies to the rack and cool completely.
Printer Friendly Verson – Checkerboard Cookies