My department’s annual holiday party was scheduled a bit earlier than usual this December. I signed up to bake cookies for the occasion– these checkerboard shortbread cookies are my old standby, but I decided to do something more festive with the recipe this time around. I was about halfway done with making the dough when I had the idea to fashion the cookies into gingham shirts with bowties. It’s a cheeky and not-so-subtle homage to that J. Crew gingham shirt everyone inevitably wears to our office at some point during the week… me included.
Checkerboard Cookies (a.k.a. That J. Crew Gingham Shirt Cookie)
(Recipe adapted from: http://www.marthastewart.com/314590/checkerboard-cookies)
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon pure lemon extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 1 large egg
- Beet powder and spinach powder for natural coloring (can be purchased at a specialty kitchen supply store; alternatively, you could use red and green food dye)
Other Supplies and Tools:
- Parchment paper
- Baking sheet
- Electric mixer
- Rolling pin
- Plastic wrap
1) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until well blended, 1 to 2 minutes. Add vanilla extract, lemon extract, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, scraping down sides of bowl.
2) Turn the 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.
3) Take the other half of dough. Cut off about a fourth of it. Split that fourth in half. Sprinkle one of these pieces with beet powder (or add red dye). Knead until the powder has been fully incorporated. Sprinkle the other small piece of dough with spinach powder (or add green dye). Knead until the powder has been fully incorporated. Set these red and green colored doughs aside for now (cover with a damp cloth to prevent them from drying out).
4) Place the cocoa-kneaded dough between two sheets of plastic. Using a rolling pin, shape the dough into a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Using a sharp knife and a ruler, slice each rectangle into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Do the same with the white dough.
5) Whisk together the egg with 1 tablespoon water. Cover your work surface with plastic wrap. Place 10 strips of dough on plastic, alternating white and cocoa strips. Brush tops and in between the strips with egg wash. Gently press the strips together. Repeat, forming 6 layers, alternating colors to create a checkerboard effect. Wrap the assembled rectangular log in plastic. Refrigerate the log for about 30 minutes to set.
6) While the log is chilling in the refrigerator, roll out the red and green dough. Cut out small bowtie shapes, or two tiny triangles.
7) Take the checkerboard log out of the fridge and slice it into 1/4-inch thick slices. From those checkerboard slices, cut off two thinner rectangular pieces to create “sleeves” for the gingham shirt. On the baking sheet lined with parchment paper, attach the sleeves to the sides of the larger rectangular piece using egg wash, forming your “shirt”. To complete the shirt, attach the small bowties using egg wash.
8) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the cookies until done, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven, and let cookies cool 2 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
Not gonna lie: these were time-intensive cookies. It’s best if you block out the afternoon to bake them– that said, they can be a fun thing to make when you’re spending quality time with your kids, nieces, nephews, etc.
The dough from this recipe works well for making plain shortbread cookies, and is also a great base for creating more decorative cookies. For example, after I made these gingham shirt cookies, I whipped up another batch of dough and baked these ugly Christmas sweater cookies:
Fun and festive, yes? You can get an ugly Christmas sweater cookie cutter here.
Enjoy and happy holidays!