Strawberry Black Pepper Chocolate Checkerboard Cookies

by Irvin on November 28, 2011 · 29 comments

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Thanksgiving is over, which means that I’m officially allowed to listen to Christmas music in the household. Apparently AJ can only listen to Dean Martin sing “Baby it’s Cold Outside” for about a month before he goes crazy. But every year, I look forward to the season, as I’m madly in love with Christmas and all the ridiculous trappings that go with it (it is, after all, the season where everyone dons their gay apparel). Along with the music, comes the annual 18 Reasons DIY Dessert Event, the Holiday Cookie Swap. I co-host the event with the ever awesome Melanie and this year, I’m excited because it will be at the new 18 Reasons space, on 18th Street, across from the Bi-Rite Market and next to the Bi-Rite Creamery. In anticipation of the evening (which is happening this Thursday, December 1, 2011 from 7pm to 9pm) I’m trying to figure out what cookies to make. Last year I made Pain d’Épice cookies, which were insanely popular. I’ve been checking out various cookbooks for inspiration and one test recipe that I made seemed pretty blogworthy – the Strawberry Black Pepper Chocolate Checkerboard Cookies.

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Strawberry Black Pepper Chocolate Checkerboard Cookies

As usual, this week is crazy insane for me, with a number of social obligations all hitting at the same time. After the insanity of back-to-back conferences and then Thanksgiving, I thought I might have a break from things, but alas no. Slightly burned out from life in general, I turned to my bookshelf for cookie inspiration. I’ve recently been buried in a slew of cookbooks, both ones I’ve bought (bookstores are my kryptonite) and ones I’ve received in the mail from publishers. In fact, at the moment, I’m so behind on looking through my newly acquired cookbooks that there were a number that were lost in the stacks. Like So Sweet! from Sur la Table. If there’s one place that is more dangerous to me than bookstores, it’s Sur la Table. So Sweet! is a small little book dedicated to treats like cookies, cupcakes, whoopie pies and more. It looked promising and I nearly broke down and made their gingerbread orange whoopie pie, but I thought I would save the whoopie pies for another day as I wanted an old fashioned cookie to make and not a confectionary cake-like treat (as great as they are) for the holiday swap.

Scanning the bookshelves (stacks next to my shelf, as I no longer have room on my bookshelves) I pulled out the Cookies for Kids Cancer: Best Bake Sale Cookbook by Gretchen Holt-Witt. I had thumbed through this book when I got last month, and it’s awesome. Not only are the recipes approachable and easy to make, but all author proceeds go to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a non-profit dedicated to providing funds for pediatric cancer research. Having been to a pediatric oncology ward and seeing children going in for their treatment, the heartbreak and the strength of the kids is both heartwrenching and powerful. I can’t recommend this book enough.

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Too many cookbooks, not enough time.

Yet I was looking for something a little more sophisticated to make and the cookies in the Best Bake Sale Cookbook were great but a little too kid friendly for what I wanted. I finally found my inspiration buried at the bottom of the pile – Cookies: At Home with the Culinary Institute of America by Todd Knaster. With over 100 recipes, I guess I should have just gone directly to the book dedicated to the subject, and from one of the most well respected cooking schools in the country. The only problem, which one to pick!

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Strawberry Black Pepper Chocolate Checkerboard Cookies

Now usually when I bake cookies, I go for a specific type of cookie. Soft, chewy, with a nice bite and rich sweetness, balanced with whatever core flavor the cookie is about (chocolate, dried fruit, ginger molasses, etc.). I like my cookies larger as well, to break apart and to share with someone. However, I also get in a rut, which is why I decided it was time to take a break from those type of cookies and do something different. Truthfully, I’ve wanted to make checkerboard cookies ever since I read about them in a Nick Malgeri’s book Cookie’s Unlimited. My friend Krista Ruane, food stylist extraordinaire, told me that she loves to make checkerboard/spiral/random bar code laminated cookies whenever she has a chance. It’s her zen activity and I can completely understand. I think there’s this precision about baking that is exemplified when you need to make sure each square is the right size when you layer them. It’s not hard to do, but it is very satisfying when it works out.

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Strawberry Black Pepper Chocolate Checkerboard Cookies

That said, once I examined the recipe, I was disappointed that a book from the Culinary Institute of America only listed the ingredients in volume and not weight, which I expected from a book written from a professional perspective. Strange since they actually recommend a scale at the beginning of the book, telling the readers that it’s the best and most accurate way to measure ingredients. Mixed messages! On top of that, the original checkerboard recipe that I adapted from seemed to leave out one or two minor steps, which is unfortunate, but hopefully they will correct that in the second edition of the book. I took it all in stride and ended up with a cookie that was worthy of bringing to the 18 Reasons Holiday Cookie Swap. Let’s just see if they last that long though!

18 Reasons is hosting their annual Holiday Cookie Swap on December 1st, 2011 from 7pm to 9pm, open to the general public. Please join us by bring at least 3 dozen cookies, your sweet tooth and a cookie tin or platter to transport any cookies you like home with you. 18 Reasons is located at 3674 18th Street at Dolores Street in San Francisco.

[Special thanks goes to the publishers of So Sweet! by Sur la Table, Cookies for Kids Cancer: Best Bake Sale Cookbook by Gretchen Holt-Witt and Cookies: At Home with Culinary Institute of America for providing review copies of the books. Do keep in mind that I was not compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.]

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Belinda @zomppa November 28, 2011 at 5:41 am

Guess it IS the holidays, now isn’t it? Hope you had a lovely one. How can I get you to ship some of these over to me? =)

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Irvin November 28, 2011 at 6:45 pm

If I had any leftover I would! But sadly they are all gone…

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Irina G (Fit Flexitarian) November 28, 2011 at 10:21 am

I can 100% relate to bookstores being your kryptonite. I feel like every time I walk into B&N, I walk out with $100 worth of books I did not intend on buying. I don’t even know how it happens! I actually spent a lot of time this weekend re-organizing my bookshelves and decided to donate a bunch of things I don’t use/haven’t read/don’t have time to read so that I can make room for new books. I have 4 shelves full of cookbooks. Maybe one of these days I will actually go through all of them. In the meantime, thanks for the inspiration!

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Irvin November 28, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Once a year, 18 Reasons hosts a cookbook swap, where people can bring their unwanted cookbooks and swap them for other cookbooks. I try to make it every year to rid myself of unused cookbooks, but it’s so hard for me to give up on old cookbooks, even the ones that I don’t use. They’re all so pretty! *sigh*

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Maia November 28, 2011 at 10:29 am

I had to know how you made the checkerboard pattern. Not gonna lie: reading it felt a little like taking an IQ test, but I’m proud to say that I was finally able to piece it together in my mind’s eye. :) They’re impressive & gorgeous – and surely tasty!

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Irvin November 28, 2011 at 6:42 pm

I KNOW! I realized after I made the cookies that I should have taken process photos to explain visually how to make them. But sadly once I realized that, it was too late. Perhaps next time I make them, I’ll do just that.

Hopefully you didn’t get a headache trying to visualize it!

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Maia November 28, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Not at all! Thanks for the mental workout. Lord knows I could use one from time to time. ;-)

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Maggie @ A Bitchin' Kitchen November 28, 2011 at 10:56 am

That is quite a cookbook collection you have there! They’re addictive aren’t they? I can sit in bed and read one like a novel.

These cookies are gorgeous. I haven’t made checkerboard cookies in years!

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Irvin November 28, 2011 at 6:45 pm

You have no idea how many cookbooks I have. Those are just a small sampling of them. They are strewn across the apartment – I think ever bookshelf has at least one or two shelves dedicated to cookbooks. Perhaps one of these days I’ll catalog them…

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Pat November 28, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Wow. The checkerboard pattern reminds me of the Fifties (those sandwich logs ladies made for entertaining, and cakes in the same pattern) – but more than that, the pink-and-black combo! Genius. And I really like our sparking up the dough with those flavors. Wish I could be there on Thursday but I’m pulling a dinner assignment.

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Irvin November 28, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Ha! I hadn’t thought of that, but they do have that Fifties sort of feel to them. I was pleased with the pink/black color combo myself. Enjoy your dinner!

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Jonathan November 28, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Wow. There’s a lot going on here…and I LOVE it. Your choice of ingredients and the way you marry them is both inspiring and encouraging to the adventurous baker in me. And I totally hear you on the end of the year feeling like a Mac truck – I can’t believe it’s almost 2012. At least we have Dean Martin to get us through…

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Irvin November 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm

I can’t believe it’s nearly 2012 too! Where the heck did the year go?!?

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visda November 28, 2011 at 12:54 pm

What a great collection of baking books you have and what a great choice you made. I love those checkboard cookies. I used to have them in my childhood and especially that little pepper taste makes them so special. I wish I could be at your DIY Desserts event on Thursday to taste them but unfortunately I’m still in Vancouver till the end of the week. I’m going to start baking cookies next week. Hope to seeing you before Christmas to share some ideas. Have a great start of the busy week.

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Irvin November 28, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Enjoy Vancouver! I have two or three cookie events coming up this week alone, so I might be burned out on cookies by the holidays. Oh, who am I kidding. I love cookies! We’ll see what happens after this week…

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Sippitysup November 28, 2011 at 2:20 pm

You have inspired me. I just about decided that I was going to sneak through the holidays without making one darn cookie. But now I wonder if I’ll be missing all the fun. GREG

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Irvin November 28, 2011 at 6:41 pm

What? Go through the holiday season WITHOUT cookies? Blasphemy!

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Janet Rudolph @ DyingforChocolate November 28, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Oh yum… what a fabulous post & the photos!!! can’t wait to make these.. or maybe I’ll just lick the screen

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Irvin November 28, 2011 at 6:49 pm

LOL. If you lick your screen, please make sure to clean it properly. I think dirty computer screens are one of my pet peeves…

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Jane November 28, 2011 at 3:23 pm

These look amazing! Thank you so much for adding the ingredients by weight – and metric at that. Much more like it as far as I’m concerned! Can’t wait to have a go and try my hand at these.

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Irvin November 28, 2011 at 6:50 pm

I don’t know WHY people don’t bake with weight! I love my kitchen scale! And metric is so much easier to work with in the kitchen than US ounces. Let me know how they turn out if you make them!

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Jane (aka Dawn!) November 29, 2011 at 11:30 am

Thanks to the internet I have worked out what it is that you call all-purpose flour and confectioners’ sugar. Divided by a common language and all that…

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Jay Geneske @ Local Me November 28, 2011 at 5:55 pm

O. M. G. That’s what I’m thinking when I see these. I’ve been invited to a cookie swap next week, and this is just the ticket. I’m definitely intimated by the process…but I think I’ll give it a whirl, while donning my gay apparel.

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Irvin November 28, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Don’t be intimidated! It sounds more complicated than it actually is. Let me know if you make them and how they turn out!

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Sara November 29, 2011 at 3:36 am

Your cookies look great. Very classy and innovative – the perfect thing for a cookie swap. I have never seen freeze-dried strawberries used like that. I definitely want to get the Cookies for Kids Cancer book too – well, I want all the books you mentioned, but I love the purpose behind that one most! Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

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raffaella November 29, 2011 at 7:46 am

Great idea! They look so tasty and… elegant.
A perfect mix of light and dark, as it often happens in your recipes, right? ;-)

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Christine December 8, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Hey Irvin, your Strawberry Black Pepper Chocolate Checkerboard Cookie is a Recipe Guessing Game on Knapkins. Think your friends can win? http://www.knapkins.com/guess_games/1021?source=blog Show your foodie love and vote here http://www.knapkins.com/duel?dish=14967

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Doll House December 26, 2011 at 3:52 am

Wow! I just love the great mixture on those cookies! They look wonderful! Thank you for sharing the recipe with us!

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Joanne T Ferguson November 30, 2013 at 1:42 am

G’day! Your cookies are gorgeous! Inspiring to me today!
Love your photo and these are now on the list too! Thank you!
Cheers! Joanne
Viewed as part of Helene’s Christmas Cookie Collection 2013

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