Lemon Gingerbread Checkerboard Cookies
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The first time I came across Schwarz-weiss Gebäck cookies, I thought they were gorgeous — and slightly intimidating. The German cookie, otherwise known as the checkerboard cookie, seemed like the sort of thing that master pastry chefs or factory machines created (not your average person). I mentioned my curiosity to a friend, who scoffed at my hesitance. They are quite easy to make, she insisted, and she often bakes them as her zone-out-in-the-kitchen "zen" project. I was still incredulous: She also happens to be a professional food stylist who has worked for celebrity chefs and on TV shows.
After attempting the cookies myself, I realized she's actually right. Making two doughs might be a little fussy, but the cookies themselves are quite easy to assemble. Don't believe me? Follow my step-by-step photos below for the easy how-to and you'll be impressing your friends and family in no time. To give the classic black-and-white checkerboards a holiday riff, I subbed lemon dough for vanilla and gingerbread dough for the traditional chocolate, which yields a sweet-spicy-tart cookie that tastes, quite simply, like the holidays.
Make the lemon dough by placing the butter, sugars and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream the butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on medium. Add the vanilla extract, lemon extract and egg and beat until incorporated, an additional 30 seconds or so.
Add the flour in three portions, beating to incorporate between additions, scraping down the sides with a large spatula. Once the flour is blended in, divide the dough in half and pat the dough down into a 6 by 6 inch square that is 1/2-inch thick. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (about 30 minutes or overnight). Repeat with the second half of the dough.
Make the gingerbread dough by placing the butter, sugars, molasses, salt, baking soda and all the spices in the same bowl that you made the lemon dough (don't bother cleaning it or the paddle attachment). Cream the butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on medium. Add the egg and beat until incorporated, an additional 30 seconds or so.
Add the flour in three portions, beating to incorporate between additions, scraping down the sides with a large spatula. Once the flour is blended in, divide the dough in half and pat the dough down into a 6- by 6-inch square that is 1/2-inch thick. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (about 30 minutes or overnight). Repeat with the second half of the dough.
Once the dough has chilled preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and take the dough out of the refrigerator. Brush the top of one of the lemon dough 6- by 6-inch squares with water. Place one of the gingerbread dough squares on top of it, and press down firmly to adhere to the dough. Brush the top of this gingerbread dough with water and place the remaining lemon dough square on top of that, pressing down firmly.
Finally brush the top of this lemon square with water and place the remaining gingerbread dough on top of that, pressing down firmly. You should have a 2-inch-thick stack of 6- by 6-inch square dough, alternating in layers. Wrap with plastic wrap and place back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes until firm.
Once the dough has firmed up, trim the edges of the square to make a completely square piece of dough. Set the trimming aside for marbled round cookies (instructions to follow).
Cut a 1/2-inch strip from the square. Place one strip flat, and then brush the top of it with water.
Cut another 1/2-inch strip from the square and rotate the strip 180 degrees so it alternates with the bottom strip. Place on the strip brushed with water and press firmly down. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough, chilling the dough as needed if it warms up and becomes sticky.
Slice each double stack of dough into 1/2-inch-thick cookies.
(To make marbled round cookies, brush the top of one trimming with water and place another trimming on top, alternating dough strips. Repeat until all the trimmings are placed on each other. Flatten and twist the trimmings together, turning clockwise with one hand, while counterclockwise with the other. Roll out the dough to a 12-inch length. Form the dough into a thick 1 1/2-inch roll pressing firmly down to make sure the different doughs stick together. Wrap with plastic wrap and chill while you bake the square checkerboard cookies.)
Line two baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper. Places the cookies on the baking sheet, about an inch apart (keep the extra cookies chilled until they get baked). Bake in the oven for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies start to brown ever so slightly. Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before moving them to a wire cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough. Once you have finished baking the checkerboard cookies, place the marbled round cookies on the sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before moving them to a wire cooling rack.
Irvin Lin is a graphic designer and art director turned photographer, writer and baker. His nationally recognized blog, Eat the Love, has been featured on Bon Appetit’s Daily Links, Saveur’s Sites We Love, PBS Food , the U.S. MasterChef magazine as well as nominated for Saveur’s 2011 Best of the Food Blog Awards under the category of Best Baking and Dessert Blog. A self-taught baker, Lin has won numerous baking awards and developed recipes for clients such as Kroger, Peanut Butter & Co. and Good Eggs. He resides in San Francisco with his partner of 11 years, where he continues to bake and blog.