Today we’re back with another recipe for traditional German Christmas cookies. These biscuits are a little more fiddly, but still very easy to make. It’s our black and white Christmas cookies.
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What’s in a name?
Schwarz-Weiß-Gebäck, or black and white Christmas cookies is another traditional German Christmas biscuit that belongs in any festive cookie tin.
The name may seem racist, and perhaps it is. The name refers to the chocolate and vanilla shortbread dough that is used to make the biscuits. In other countries that are often called chess board or checkerboard cookies. However, as they also come in other designs – such as spirals, stripes or circles, as well as the random pattern that is basically to use up the rest of the dough – it does not seem right to call them simply checkerboard cookies.
What makes these black and white Christmas cookies different?
Black and white Christmas cookies traditionally have a vanilla ‘white’ dough and a chocolate ‘black’ dough that is flavored with cocoa powder.
This recipe is a little more complicated than most, but the taste is better in my opinion.
This recipe does not just rely on cocoa powder to flavour the ‘black’ dough. Instead, it uses grated white chocolate and dark chocolate. The grating is a little messier, but it makes a difference. These cookies can be quite dry and bland. The addition of chocolate solves both issues!
The secret to great black and white Christmas cookies
There are two secrets to great black and white Christmas cookies – apart from adding grated chocolate to make the dough richer and tastier.
I’ll be blunt: these black and white Christmas cookies are not going to look good if your dough is all uneven.
There are two easy ways to ensure dough evenness (especially if, like me, you don’t have the advantage of rolling out dough every week).
The first is to use rolling pin guides. I have a wooden set, which came in quite a sturdy box. You can find similar rolling pin guides in plastic if you prefer. The advantage of these sets is that you can use them as rulers to cut the dough into equally wide strips for a checkerboard pattern.
Alternatively, invest in a rolling pin with adjustable rings which will help ensure that your dough is even. I love everything from Joseph Joseph and this rolling pin with rings is no exception.
Joining the dough
The other issue that affects the way your cookies look and taste and either makes or breaks your German black and white Christmas cookies is how you join your layers together.
If you try and add extra butter or sugar to make the dough stickier, the biscuits will become oily and leave oil spots where they are or they will be crumbly and dry.
If you just push the dough together to try and get the layers to stick, you will end up with uneven cookies. The sharp lines you just set to make will lose their sharpness ad even become malformed.
The trick, according to my German mother-in-law is to use egg whites to stick the layers together.
Simply brush a thin layer of egg whites on each layer of dough before joining. A pastry brush is the best tool to use for this job (but don’t wash it in the dishwasher as the bristles will take on an odd and unpleasant taste).
Black and white Christmas cookies
- small bowl
- Plastic wrap
- baking paper
- 40 g white chocolate
- 40 g dark chocolate
- 250 g plain flour
- 100 g white sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- ¾ tsp baking powder
- 1 pinch salt
- 150 g cold butter cut into cubes
- 2 egg yolks lightly beaten
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1 egg white
- flour to dust the work surface
- Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and vanilla essence and mix until well combined and it again resembles fine breadcrumbs. Quickly squeeze the crumbs together to form a large ball.
- Cut the dough ball in half. Add the white chocolate to one half and knead until well combined. Add the dark chocolate and cocoa powder to the other half and knead that until well combined too.
- Roll each lot of dough out on a lightly floured work surface until they are 1 cm thick. Cut each lot of dough into a large square then into strips about 1 cm wide. Paint each side that will touch the other layer with egg white to help them stick. Layer the strips on top of each other black then white or white then black. Paint one long side with egg white then place two layered strips next to each other lengthwise so that they form a chessboard pattern when you look from the end. Press the two strips together gently then wrap the joined strips in plastic and refrigerate for two hours.
- Two hours later: Preheat the oven to 160°c. Line two trays with baking paper.
- Slice the checkered strips into slices (checkered squares) approximately 5 mm thick and place on the trays, leaving a little room between each biscuit.
- Bake on the middle rack for 10 to 12 minutes or until they have just started to go brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
A fun and tasty alternative: red and white cookies
If you want an equally tasty Christmas-colored cookie, take some inspiration from our white chocolate cake with raspberry frosting.
Instead of adding cocoa powder and grated dark chocolate to half of the dough, add 40g grated white chocolate and 1 tablespoon of raspberry powder to that half instead. Simply ground some (freeze) dried raspberries in a coffee grinder to get raspberry powder. One small handful of dried raspberries should yield about a heaped tablespoon.
Chessboard or spiral?
Whatever pattern you choose, you should make some of these German black and white Christmas cookies this festive season. But don’t use just any recipe, use our recipe with added chocolate. Yes, it is a little messier, but it is so worth the effort!