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Checkerboard Cookies

Though they look complicated, these tender cookies are easy to make if you use a ruler. To ensure an even design, measure the strips of dough carefully. The dough can be made a day or two in advance and refrigerated, or frozen for several weeks.

  • Yield: Makes about 4 dozen
Checkerboard Cookies

Source: Holiday Cookies 2001, Special Issue 2001


  • 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


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper. Slice each log into 1/4-inch-thick slices; place on baking sheet. Bake 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.

Reviews (38)

  • Sarah Gerst 25 Feb, 2015

    They failed. I followed everything right but they failed.
    The dough was perfect, but then when I pulled them out of the oven, they were melted.
    I just ended up using them as crumbs to sprinkle on top of my brownies once they dried out a little.

  • Narthex3416 25 Dec, 2014

    These are a childhood favorite and I decided to give it a try. Dough came out too dry and brittle. I've seen recipes that include an egg in the mix, so maybe next time. Not quite sweet enough either(maybe I didn't add all the sugar?) Also 3T cocoa seemed too much for half the dough. Maybe I would do 2T. Not as good a mom's : (

  • Kristinainengland 14 Dec, 2013

    I think the reason there are conflicting opinions about egg vs. no egg is the humidity in your area. I'm in Canada, in winter, and my 'dough' was a dry, crumbly mess. I added the egg and it was better. Still, although beautiful when done, these are NOT worth the effort. Avoid.

  • stameidyx 24 Apr, 2013

    After reading the comments, I followed chefdelamaison's advice and added the egg into the mixture itself. And I really regretted it!! The dough became much too tacky to shape properly. I think it might've helped with the cocoa half, but it made the other half quite difficult to work with. Other than this, and omitting the lemon essence, I followed the recipe and it came out fantastic. I can't wait to try it again, sans the egg!

  • lady1231 24 Dec, 2012

    I just made these today. As the recipe states the dough will be crumbly it did take some needing and even when placing the strips I had to still press them together a bit as the dough can fall apart easily. As it also states it looks complicated but it is a super easy recipe and the cookies taste light and crispy and I love the hint of lemon extract. Will use this recipe again and I recommend.

  • Juliacr 20 Dec, 2012

    Reading the other reviews, I was dubious about these cookies but tried them anyway. Kids would have great fun helping with the kneading and assembly stages. The dough tasted delicious but the finished product was dry and chalky. I used orange extract instead of lemon, but otherwise followed the recipe exactly--weighed out the ingredients and everything. I'd give these s cookiea 6 out of 10, especially because their flavor doesn't justify the time it takes to make them.

  • zeesh_11 19 Dec, 2012

    I've no idea why there are so many comments stating the cookies were bland or were not sweet enough. I consulted a Swedish recipe book (we live in Sweden) and it had exact sugar-flour proportions - so I gave it try. Instead of using Lemon and Vanilla extract I used Grand Marneir and orange zet. They turned out great - kids loved them and want me to bake more for Christmas! And they are so neat to look at - my family went " did you do that?" :)

  • agb001 14 Dec, 2011

    I used part of SKY BLUE's TIP: used 2 Cups Flour, 1 extra tsp of Vanilla and added another 1/2 Cup Sugar. I left the Lemon extract in there (because I love LEMON). I put it together, piece of cake. Went together beautifully. Will let you know tomorrow how they taste.

  • chefdelamaison 29 Nov, 2011

    Add the egg INTO the recipe and you don't have to glue/paste anything. Dough will be tacky enough to adhere to each other once you have stacked them. Dough does not have to 7" squares. 3/4 strips tend to be the right size for layering. This is an all time favorite in our family ever since the recipe appeared

  • Rileyt2000 27 Jan, 2011

    sorry typo watched

  • Rileyt2000 27 Jan, 2011

    I have never made them, but watcked the video and it looks very time consuming. To much cutting and chilling and more cutting. From these comments it is a definate no on trying these cookies.

  • julaphina 2 Jan, 2011

    Not worth the effort. Mine were so tiny - even though I followed the recipe measurements perfectly. I too, found them dry. The end did not justify the means.

  • amaranthe 18 Dec, 2010

    I used orange extract in place of the lemon and it tasted pretty good.

  • ahgaha 17 Dec, 2010

    I meant to say people, not proletariat!!! Sometimes I love spell check and other times I don't!!!

  • ahgaha 17 Dec, 2010

    For those of you who had "tasteless" cookies... It's not you or the recipe. This is an old European cookie recipe and they traditionally don't use much sugar in baking and many of their sweets aren't really all that sweet. Don't think it's a bad recipe. I make them not for the taste, but so proletariat say "how did you do that??"

  • nhong 14 Dec, 2010

    I spent a few hours preparing the logs and froze them overnight. Today I was excited to cut and back these cookies. I wish I read these review before I started the process. They turned out very chalky (too much flour?) and bland (not enough sugar?). The process was fun to try, but too much work for tasteless cookies. I think they need to take this cookie off their holiday cookie list. Or review and improve on the recipe. I'm very disappointed. Such a waste of time. :(

  • mesadarcy 13 Dec, 2010

    @kaceylauren - Each strip is 3/8 inch by 3/4 inch so a perfect square can't happen. Roll it to 3/4 inch if you want a square cookie or cut them in 3/8 inch strips.

  • mckinneymama 11 Dec, 2010

    Horrible, absolutely no flavor. Is something missing from the recipe? Very bland, enjoyed the process, that was new. But for nothing. They became trash.

  • dietpepsi 9 Dec, 2010

    I'm stunned that someone said they were "easy". These were the biggest waste of time...

  • Emmabell 20 Nov, 2010

    This recipe is actually pretty easy to make - the dough is a perfect consistency for working with once it's kneaded, and they look great... but I have to say that they have a very bland, bitter taste. I found that a couple people really liked them, but most were so-so about them due to the lack of sweetness. I would recommend adding the least amount of cocoa powder needed to make the chocolate dough dark and add more sugar and slightly more lemon or vanilla extract to up the flavor...

  • rebeccarae 15 Oct, 2009

    Would it be alright to substitute shortening for the butter in this recipe? I've made these cookies before using the regular instructions and they've turned out fine, but I don't want to waste ingredients and effort making these if shortening will produce a bad end result. Help, please!

  • the7clarks 16 Dec, 2008

    These were fun to try. I thought the flavor was mild, and my testers had no complaints. We usually stick to quick and easy cookies, so they were quite impressed with the appearance. My mother-in-law liked the use of egg wash, we'll probably try her grandma's recipe using egg wash next time, maybe for spirals. She had always had trouble with the dough staying together.

  • de_music 15 Dec, 2008

    I have been making these cookies for several years now and they are a favourite with friends and family. This year, the kids helped make them by kneading the dough! It definitely takes more than a couple of minutes of kneading to get the dough to the right consistency - but then it isn't dry at all and very easy to work with.

  • ehrisch 10 Dec, 2008

    Kneading the cocoa powder into the dough was so hard to do- I cheated and used my stand-mixer.

  • ehrisch 10 Dec, 2008

    I have made them at Christmas for the past three years in a row. YES, they are tedious and time-consuming. The second year, I got the "hang" of it, and the third year they were pretty easy. They do not have a lot of "flavor" to some people because they are not very sweet....but many people I gave them to REALLY loved them and liked that they were not too sickly-sweet and EVERYONE was impressed with the appearance ("how did you do that???").

  • rl6899 3 Dec, 2008

    I was able to finish these cookies but they were a lot of work! I sort of felt like I was in clay class while assembling them. I also read others saying that the cookies weren't sweet enough so I added some egg wash and sugar on top. I also used just 2T of cocoa, not 3T. So if you're up for a baking challenge then this is your recipe!

  • ReecesPieces 7 Sep, 2008

    I'm sorry to say these were bland, tasteless and dry. The dough did not come together nicely after I added the cocoa powder and was difficult to roll out without tearing or cracking it. I think the concept is pretty, though, so I will probably try this recipe again with my own cookie dough.

  • rickykjt 26 Dec, 2007

    I've only been baking for 50 years so maybe I should try harder but this recipe is for the birds. I have never seen such a dry mess. After much mixing and trying to gather it together and measuring, the strips fell apart when I tried to move them. This is the worst mess I've had in a long time. Don't waste your time and ingredients. A recipe from Martha Stewart should not need tweaking to make it turn out.

  • skyeblue 26 Dec, 2007

    A show-stopper, but recipe needs tweaking---these changes produced delicious results...not too sweet, but not bitter either. Sugar--1 cup; hold the cocoa--go w/2 oz, melted unsweetned chocolate; 10 tablespoons butter; hold the lemon extract...double up on vanilla ext; use 2 cups of flour

  • Duffyangel 21 Dec, 2007

    I made these cookies several years ago. Everyone at work loved the look of them but didn't go back for seconds. They were a little bitter perhap because of the powdered cocoa. I like them alot but also could use a little more sweetness and I usually reduce the sugar in recipes. Anyone have any ideas--a little more sugar or chocolate squares ??

  • nursedragon 21 Dec, 2007

    This recipe is for the birds. I followed the instructions precisely as given; the dough was dry and crumbly, no way in the world could one expect to roll out this dough - it kept cracking and crumbling. I gave up and just pressed the two dough flavors into separate pans and baked them as one would shortbread. (300 degrees F. for 25 min.) At least it wasn't a total waste, but these are not very sweet. Bleah. What a waste of time, effort and ingredients.

  • engineeringirl 20 Dec, 2007

    This was definitley a challenging cookie to make, but they turned out beautifully! I gave them in a box crafted from one of Martha's Craft kits sold at Michaels. The price was high on the kit, $30, but if you use a 40% off Michaels coupon from your Sunday paper, it was a great deal. Everyone thought the cookies were professional. Note: the cookies were a bit more rectangular, not square as pictured, but still looked great. The strips of dough maybe should have been thicker than 3/8 inch.

  • NormaAmrhein 18 Dec, 2007

    I made these cookies to include in the cookie plates our church distribues to shut-in seniors. I'm a perfectionist so I had great fun making them and my quilting ruler was perfect for precise measuring of the strips of dough. They make a beautiful presentation!!!

  • Claireg52 16 Dec, 2007

    Lovely cookies. A favorite with my family. Grandchildren love the checker look.

  • kaceylauren 16 Dec, 2007

    I'm not sure what happened here (maybe some of you can help me out), but for me these cookies LOOKED really great, but ug--the taste was horrible. They tasted like they weren't sweet enough and they also seemed a little dry. What happened here? Also the cookies turned out long and skinny, not a 3x3 square cookie like I was expecting. Hmmmmmm....I'm perplexed.

  • ohdirtraker 14 Dec, 2007

    I can vouch for these...made these last year and just made 9 dz for a cookie exchange -
    - EVERYONE I know loves these cookies (and that IS hard to come by!)
    - try sliceing a little thinner, I get about 6 dz / batch
    - They keep exceeding well
    If you try one new recipe this year - this is the one!

  • pinkmother 13 Dec, 2007

    Great tasting soft cookies. Alot of work but worth the effort.

  • lantoc 28 Nov, 2007

    Labour intensive but worth the effort.

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