Checkerboard Cookies

June 6, 2010 at 11:37 am 98 comments

Checkerboard Cookies

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.

Checkerboard Cookies

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.

Checkerboard Cookies

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.

Checkerboard Cookies

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!]

Checkerboard Cookies

Checkerboard Cookies

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.

Checkerboard Cookies
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.

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98 Comments Add your own

  • 1. lavienouveau  |  June 14, 2010 at 4:09 am

    these are so cute and congrats! boston is one of my favorite cities and you’ll be a kick but journalist!

  • 2. Anna  |  June 14, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Congratulations on the college acceptance in Boston, that’s so exciting! And those cookies are oh-so pretty! I’m basically in love with them :) But I’m sure if I tried to make them they wouldn’t turn out near as good.

  • 3. Tania  |  June 14, 2010 at 11:21 am

    You finallyyyy posted these! I recognize the last picture :P

    And it doesn’t sound like you to honk at strangers boys! ;)

  • 4. katieallover  |  June 14, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    I love your blog so much and in fact I was so inspired by yours that I decided to try it out for myself. This recipe looks spectacular. Keep up the inspiring work!

  • 5. Rachel  |  June 14, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    Congratulations on graduating! I hope it cleared up in time for the ceremony.

  • 6. L.  |  June 15, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Dear Elissa –
    I just stumbled across your blog, looking for a recipe for a cake I could take to Yosemite for my dad’s birthday that would be better a couple days after baking. As I read down your post I was stunned to see that you were a teenager. Not to be ageist, but I have lived quite a bit longer than you, and your writing voice – and baking knowledge – display so much wisdom. I am so moved by your writing, your passion for baking, and what you write about your family. I also have (had, she sadly passed) a Chinese mom and a dad who once baked (these checkerboard cookies were ones we did at Christmas from Dr. Oetker’s cookbook). I now have a 3 year old and I hope he will turn out like you – someone who grows up amidst much love and warmth in the kitchen and someone with talent and passion. I am really, really impressed and inspired by you. Best of luck with your move East.

  • 7. Erica  |  June 16, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Looks like you may be going to Emerson! I’m an alum of that school, and can say that the best part of my education there were the extra curricular activities. Make sure you stay involved! If Emerson is where you’re headed, you’re definitely going to have a great time.

  • 8. Ellen Collis  |  June 16, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    Girl, you are crazy-talented! These cookies sound so yummy and the presentation is precious! Love it :)

  • 9. outsideoslo  |  June 17, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    I know what you mean about the weather. A Seattleite myself, it can be frustrating to endure these weeks of June this year that are as dreary and dark as a fall day. Where’s the sun!?!?

    Those checkerboard cookies look perfect, just as professional and neat as the ones at Ballard’s Cafe Besalu–one of the best bakeries in the city!

  • 10. Katie  |  June 20, 2010 at 3:51 am

    What a lovely, sweet blog post. And those checkerboard cookies look amazing :)

  • 11. francesca  |  June 23, 2010 at 3:15 am

    Simply fantastic.

  • 12. deeba  |  June 24, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Evocative and beautiful post, with cookie to match! Gorgeous!!

  • 13. Cristina  |  June 27, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    welcome to Boston!

  • 14. competeforfood  |  July 2, 2010 at 7:08 am

    Hi Elissa & readers

    If I wanted to use ginger instead of cocoa how much ginger should I use? Is there anything else I could use instead of cocoa, i’m not a big fan of chocolate. Thanks!

  • 15. Jessica  |  July 5, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Oh man I’ve been reading your blog all day whilst bored at work (yes, when everyone else is off cause of July 4th!) and been commenting like a maniac and realize you’re coming here!

    I know how hard it is to bake during school since I recently graduated, but I hope you will be able to still find the time to keep blogging (will you even have access to a kitchen in your dorm?!) because your blog is amazing! I was going to assume you’re attending either Emerson or BU, but err on the side of Emerson since you said it’s a communications school. I studied communications at BU but did have a soft spot for Emerson

    P.S. If you ever need to know where to find a certain ingredient, baked good, etc. feel free to e-mail me any time!

    /End post.

  • 16. Susan  |  July 11, 2010 at 6:44 am

    these are lovely. i have made something like this in the past, but mine never looked like yours. thank you!

  • 17. Alexandra  |  July 14, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    These cookies look so yummy, will have to try them sometime.

  • 18. Irada  |  July 20, 2010 at 11:44 am

    These look fantastic!

  • 19. cca  |  August 10, 2010 at 8:31 am

    these look amazing!

  • 20. Geneviève  |  August 17, 2010 at 10:07 am

    I made these two nights ago to bring to my coworkers. They did not turn out as pretty as yours, but they were delicious! I had a lot of trouble with the dough not rolling out correctly and slicing the logs – the different layers would not stick together and kept crumbling. Did you ever experience this? Any thoughts on what I could have done wrong?

    Thanks for the recipe!!

  • 21. koshari  |  August 31, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Looks very delicious recipe :) Thanks for sharing

  • 22. pictureinfinity  |  September 10, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Geneviève – I had the same trouble just last night. The mix was REALLY dry. I had to add another half stick of butter just to pretend to get through it. I refrigerated it for 4 hours and could not get it to come back to a normal consistency. I may try warming it later but I think my batch is entirely dead.

    • 23. Elissa  |  September 10, 2010 at 2:28 pm

      pictureinfinity & Genevieve – Sorry to hear that you two had trouble. My chocolate dough was dry, but not so dry that I had to add any liquid, and the two doughs have a great consistency. I wish I could be more helpful but I’m not sure how to guide you. :(

  • 24. izmir escort  |  December 25, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Geneviève – I had the same trouble just last night. The mix was REALLY dry. I had to add another half stick of butter just to pretend to get through it. I refrigerated it for 4 hours and could not get it to come back to a normal consistency. I may try warming it later but I think my batch is entirely dead.

  • 25. Vivian  |  January 2, 2011 at 3:35 am

    Thank you so much for this post. You inspired me to come out of my baking comfort zone (of simple oatmeal and choco chip cookies) and try to bake these cookies. I was sure it would turn out a disaster, but I was thrilled when I started slicing them and saw how beautiful they were! My whole family loves them, and they really boosted my baking self-esteem :)

    Your writing is, as usual, spectacular. Its amazing that you’re only one year older than me, yet you’re so talented both in the kitchen and in writing/journalism!

  • 26. Vivian  |  January 5, 2011 at 4:15 am

    By the way, this is probably my favorite post ever. Its so beautifully written and describes a perfect weekend for me. I love how you make the little things in life sound so wonderful and it just gives me a warm and glowing feeling inside. Thanks again!

  • 27. Chocolate and Vanilla Pinwheels « Krafted by Kelly  |  January 8, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    […] supposed to look dry and lopsided. Thanks to the Internet, I could try another recipe, one that a live person could vouch for. (Take that, Mrs. Field’s!) Now, if you have ever wanted to make these cookies, but the […]

  • 28. Isabel Kitchen  |  January 21, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    I was surprised to see how much this blog entry relates to my own life right now. I became interseted in your blog because i too share a passion for baking. I am a senior in High School and graduation is fast approaching. I am planning to attend the Art Institute of Houston in order to continue my dreams of becoming a chef and eventually owning a cafe. Your passion for baking at such and early age is remarkable! I feel the same and love the fact that baking is something I will always have and that no one can take away from me. It’s how I express myself, how I make mistakes and how I improve. Thank you for sharing with us the joy that baking brings to your life, it has and will inspire many of us.
    P.S: Those cookies look amazing! Wish I could try one right now…

  • 29. how get back with your ex  |  January 21, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    OMG those checkerboard cookies look so delicious.

  • 30. v7web  |  January 21, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    I have got to get myself some of those crazy looking cookies

  • 31. Just for you all~ « Music and the Soul  |  February 17, 2011 at 10:41 am

    […] actually, in reality, I stole the recipe from here. But I decided that I’d do all the conversions for you guys, who use the metric system. I […]

  • 32. Checkerboard cookies | Starting to Cook  |  April 3, 2011 at 1:33 am

    […] I saw these cookies on Elissa’s blog at 17 and Baking I knew I had to make them.  These are everything I look for in a recipe to shoot.  Interesting […]

  • 33. Emily  |  April 7, 2011 at 2:15 am

    these are so delicious, and they look so professional, even when i make them! i love to bake, and this recipe makes me happy everytime

  • 34. Danae  |  May 19, 2011 at 11:43 am

    These cookies look so fancy, and they were so easy to make!

  • 35. melanie  |  June 27, 2011 at 12:26 am

    I tried out this recipe today but ignored the parts about waiting hours for the dough to chill in the fridge – I was just too excited about eating the cookies to wait!
    I think they turned out pretty good! Check ’em out:

  • 36. Alinadec  |  December 21, 2011 at 12:50 pm


  • 37. Lizzie  |  July 25, 2012 at 12:10 am

    I may never eat anything else…

  • 38. Amayu  |  February 23, 2013 at 12:50 am

    Reblogged this on MayaYume's Mushroom Corner and commented:

    I will make them one day.

    With strawberry instead of chocolate.

    Oh my god, that would be so pretty but so Asian of me because Pocky.

  • 39. Checkerboard Cookies | Cadi's Kitchen  |  March 31, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    […] found the recipe on 17 and Baking, where it is credited to Baking Obsession, so I’d like to credit and thank both those authors […]

  • 40. LaRayne  |  August 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    I tried them and they did not work out to well but they tasted good.

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  • 44. Checkerboard Cookies | Saved By Grace  |  December 12, 2014 at 5:51 am

    […] found a recipe for these on 17 and Baking, but after trying that exact recipe a couple of years ago, I had to tweak it a bit to be more what […]

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  • 46. checkerboard cookies | Patrick Cooks  |  October 1, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    […] few weeks ago I encountered a post on 17 and Baking about checkerboard cookies, and they looked like a fun and complex project, ideal for breaking in my new kitchen. On a side […]

  • 47. NinNeliyXX  |  February 16, 2019 at 5:38 am


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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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