Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies
Chocolate pinwheel cookies are as soft and delicious as they are fun to make. Perfect any time of year, these easy slice and bake cookies stand out with their striking visual swirls.
I’m excited to once again participate in The Sweetest Season Cookie Exchange, a cookie-based fundraiser for pediatric cancer.
Just like in previous years, we’re helping to raise funds for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising funds for research to develop new, improved, and less toxic treatments for pediatric cancer.
For a little refresher, CLICK HERE to learn a little more about the organization, my own research background in pediatric cancer, and why you should consider donating to this great charity!
(And there’s a really great chewy chocolate mint cookie recipe on the other side of that link too, in case you need a little extra motivation to click.)
This year, rather than share a brand new recipe, I’m giving a little revamp to an old recipe.
My absolute most favorite cookies ever are my grandmother’s pinwheel cookies. They are the perfect combination of delicious, fun to make, and unique enough to stand out in a sea of chocolate chip cookies recipes.
And for me, they are full of wonderful nostalgic, childhood memories.
I first shared this recipe back in 2012, and I’ve had a lot of requests for step-by-step photos since then. It was high time to give my favorite cookies the attention they deserve!
How to Make Pinwheel Cookies
Think pinwheel cookies are hard? Think again! This is one of those recipes that seems so much harder than it really is.
The dough is mixed together in a mixer, like any standard cookie dough. Once it comes together, split the dough in half and add melted chocolate to one half. Then refrigerate.
The key to getting good, defined pinwheel swirls is always working with cold dough. We’ll chill three times in this recipe:
- Chill the dough after mixing together. Form into rectangles, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Chill the dough again after rolling up into a pinwheel. This helps the dough keep its round shape — don’t forget to roll it a few times to ensure the bottom doesn’t flatten!
- Freeze the dough before slicing. This ensures the dough will slice well without squishing.
Because there’s so much chilling involved, these are perfect slice and bake cookies to break up and make over several days (or weeks – or months!).
The dough can be refrigerated at each step for quite a while, and the final rolled dough can even be frozen for months. I’ve been known to keep a few rolls of these in my freezer at all times, just in case the cookie bug strikes!
Use Melted Chocolate, Not Cocoa Powder
The most commonly asked question I get about these cookies is if cocoa powder can be swapped for the melted chocolate. The simple answer is no, but for a more in depth explanation, it’s time for my favorite subject… kitchen chemistry!
Cocoa powder contains only cocoa solids and no cocoa butter, meaning it does not contain any fat. Unsweetened chocolate contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The additional fat from the cocoa butter is essential to keep the cookie moist and chewy — more fat equals shorter gluten strands which equals a more tender cookie.
By using cocoa powder, the cookie has less fat than necessary for the ideal texture and will taste dry and crumbly.
This recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate, often called baking chocolate. This chocolate contains no added sugar and thus has a more deep chocolate flavor. Dark chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate can be used, but the chocolate colored swirl will appear lighter and the chocolate flavor will be less pronounced.
How to Roll Pinwheel Cookies (Step-By-Step Photos)
I think the process of rolling up the pinwheel cookies can be a little intimidating for some people. Fret not: it’s easy! And here’s some step-by-step photo instructions, because a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.
- Roll out the chocolate and vanilla dough separately, into a rectangular-ish shape roughly the same size. Stack the dough on top of each other (it does not matter which flavor is on top).
- Use a knife to cut the dough into a rectangle, roughly 6 inches by 7 inches.
- Lift the long edge of the dough up from the counter using a bench scraper or spatula.
- Start to roll the dough away from you, carefully rolling both sides of the dough.
- Roll the whole way and press the edge down to seal.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator.
Pinwheel Cookie Variations
I always like mine as chocolate and vanilla swirls, just the way my grandmother made them. But you can use this dough rolling technique to make any combination of colors or flavors!
Stick with just vanilla dough and a little food coloring for some festive cookies (red and green for Christmas, red and blue for 4th of July, etc).
Paint a thin layer of fruit jam on top of the dough before rolling for a jam-filled pinwheel.
Maybe some orange zest in the dough and cranberry jam? Or how about adding coconut extract and flakes of coconut to the vanilla dough? Or if you’re like me and love lemon desserts, maybe a layer of lemon curd?
Want a three-colored pinwheel? Repeat the same process as above, just adding in a third layer of dough before rolling.
Love sprinkles? Roll the outside of the log, after freezing but before slicing, in small sprinkles, non-pareils, or colored sanding sugar.
The possibilities are endless!
Tips and Tricks for the Best Pinwheel Cookies
- For the best chocolate flavor, use unsweetened baking chocolate. Using dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or semi-sweet chocolate will result in a lighter color swirl and a muted chocolate flavor.
- Keep the dough cold! This dough can start to get sticky as it warms up. Make sure to chill before rolling the dough out and again before shaping into the pinwheel.
- Freeze the dough before slicing. Frozen dough is easier to slice cleanly than refrigerated dough, and will help ensure the cookie doesn’t flatten into an oval while slicing.
- If the dough starts to crack while rolling into a log, let the dough sit at room temperature for 2-3 minutes to start to just soften before rolling the rest of the way.
- This recipe makes small cookies. For larger cookies pinwheel cookies, layer four rectangles of dough before rolling. Chocolate, vanilla, chocolate, vanilla, then roll. There will be two logs of rolled dough at the end instead of four.
- To keep things easy, make the dough ahead of time. The dough can be made and refrigerated for up to 3 days. The swirled logs can be frozen for up to 3 months. Baked cookies can also be frozen for up to 3 months.
- Store chocolate pinwheel cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
More Cookie Recipes:
- Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Black and White Cookies
- Toffee Crunch Cookies
- Sprinkle Sugar Cookies
- All Cookie Recipes »
Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies
Chocolate pinwheel cookies are as soft and delicious as they are fun to make.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
- Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
- Using an electric mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in sugar and beat an additional 2 minutes more. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition, followed by the vanilla. Add the flour mixture and beat on low until just combined.
- Divide the dough in half. Form half of the dough into a 4 by 4-inch square, wrap in plastic wrap, and set aside. Return the other half of the dough to the mixing bowl. Using a double boiler or a microwave on low power, melt the chocolate, stirring until smooth. Mix the melted chocolate into the dough just until combined. Form the chocolate dough into a 4 by 4-inch square, wrap in plastic wrap, and place both chocolate and vanilla doughs into the refrigerator for 30 minutes (or up to 3 days).
- Cut each dough into four even strips. Roll out one strip of vanilla dough between two sheets of parchment paper, into a roughly 6-by-7 inch rectangle. Repeat with a strip of the chocolate dough. Peel off the top sheet of parchment paper from each dough and flip the vanilla dough over onto the chocolate dough. Trim excess dough into a rectangle and run a rolling pin lightly over the dough to ensure they stick together. Peel off the top sheet of parchment paper, then roll the dough into a log. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Repeat with remaining strips of dough to form 4 logs.
- Refrigerate logs for 1 hour, then remove from refrigerator and roll each log on the counter several times to prevent the bottom from flattening. Transfer to the freezer for 2 hours, or up to 3 months. Keep dough frozen until ready to slice and bake.
- Preheat oven to 350 °F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a sharp knife, slice dough into 1/4-inch thick slices and place 1 1/2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until vanilla dough is slightly golden, 9 to 11 minutes. Cool cookies on a wire rack.
A Bunsen Burner Bakery Family Recipe
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 24 Serving Size: 2 cookies
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 191Total Fat: 9.5gCarbohydrates: 24gProtein: 2.5g
This recipe was first published in July 2012 and updated in December 2021.
I’m intrigued by this recipe. These cookies look so elegant. It would be great if you would so kind as to produce a video detailing the process. I am not a great cook but I am adventurous. Please do the legacy of this recipe a tremendous justice and supply a video or step by step pictorial. I love your blog. I always learn something new and interesting. Your recipes are awesome too. Thank you!
Love the fundraiser! And your updated photos!
I love a good pinwheel, and these look utterly PERFECT, Julie! I loved reading all your tips and tricks, too, because my pinwheels have a tendency to look a little… squished… and I think it’s because I’m not chilling the dough enough. Lessons learned. 😉
The combination of chocolate and vanilla in these cookies makes me so happy, and I have a feeling these are going to appear on our table this weekend…
Thank you so much for participating in this year’s exchange and joining us in sharing some cookies and spreading the love!
Hi! Your cookies look utterly amazing, these have been my favourite since as long as I can remember
😀 Childhood favorite and forever favorite I’ve always been keen on finding a recipe that would bring them back to my life 🙂
I’m going to try out your recipe this weekend and was wondering if you could tell me, if the first time round when you chill the dough, do you roll it into a rectangle first using a rolling pin, or do you just make it into a rectangle with your hands, chill it and then roll it? Thank you 🙂
Hi Ariana! After making the dough, I just mold it into a rectangle-ish shape with my hands and wrap it in plastic wrap to store in the fridge. I don’t use a rolling pin until I’m rolling the dough out thin to shape the cookies. Hope this helps – let me know if you have any other questions!
First time tried to bake pinwheel and these turned out amazing! Thank you 🙂
I’m so glad they worked well for you, Shafeen!
Wondering if anyone can tell me the easiest way to mix the chocolate in the mix. I have a hard time and my chocolate ball looks more like a marble mix. Please help.
Hi Jo-Ann — I just mix mine in with an electric mixer until it’s fully incorporated. I haven’t had an issue mixing it in well!
I am doing a trial run of the cookies, have just blended the chocolate in …what a mess..haha
I did cocoa to start off and I think that is how I will go for the next batch ( at Christmas time)
Oh no — in what way was adding the chocolate a mess? I’ve made this dough dozens of times and it’s never been messy!
Could you use unsweetened cocoa powder instead of the head chocolate? Thank you!
In my previous email I didn’t
T proofread it should read “hard” not “head”. I am sorry!
Hi Judy! Unsweetened cococa powder is SUPER drying, so you’ll have to add some extra liquid to the dough to counteract the additional dry ingredients. I have not tried this myself — the general substitution is 3 tablespoons cocoa powder + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil for each ounce of unsweetened chocolate, so in this case, you would stir together 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 6 tablespoons of cocoa powder and mix in into the batter. I haven’t personally tried it to confirm that it works – but if you give it a try, please report back and let me know how it worked out!
When I made these before, when I rolled them up into logs the dough was cracking and not rolling up smoothly. I don’t know why this is, almost as if it was a little too dry? I want to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Any ideas?
Hi Don — this can happen when the dough is chilled and just needs to warm up a little. It’s a delicate balance; we need the dough to be cold so it doesn’t stick (and we don’t want to add too much flour or the cookies will spread too much and lose their pinwheel shape), but while the dough is cold, it tends to crack a little — you can see in the photos, it happens to the outside layer of mine, too. Warm it up a little in your hands just enough that you can form it into a smooth log, and if it cracks on the outermost layer, once you’ve rolled it into the log, continue to roll the log back and forth on the countertop a few times to smooth it out — it will smooth over as you roll it in your hands and it warms up. Then chill it again in the fridge really well to ensure it’s cold before baking! Overmixing the dough can also cause it to crack, but I usually find the culprit to cracking dough is that it’s still a little too cold while you’re rolling it out!
This comment will be like… 3 years late. But the trick to rolling this out without cracking is to roll each side out while still room temp right after mixing– and then sticking them together. How you do this is by putting the dough between pieces of wax paper and rolling it (each side seperately!) between sheets of wax paper (Just use the rolling pin over the top of the wax paper to spread the dough out into a rectangle shape). Each side gets rolled out the exact same way (I’m repeating myself on purpose). Then you take the top sheet of wax paper off of each side. Carefully flip one side on top of the other. Make sure you gently smooth the top layer out so it sticks to the bottom layer. Then roll up the entire thing using the wax paper. Roll it up tightly to make sure you don’t get a hollow center (way easier to do this when the dough is still room temp).
Then just seal up the sides of the wax paper- tuck them under- whatever it takes to seal up the sides. so the dough doesn’t dry out in the fridge. Throw the log into your fridge and let it sit there an hour or overnight before slicing.
What is the diameter of the cookies when baked?
Hmmm, I’ve never measured, but they’re not large – about the size of my palm. Maybe 2 inches across?
What type of unsweetened chocolate do you use? Is it 100% dark chocolate?
Hi Ariana – unsweetened chocolate is chocolate with no sugar added (just cocoa solids and cocoa butter). I’m not familiar with 100% dark chocolate, but it sounds like that’s probably the same as unsweetened chocolate, just a different name for it based on regional differences!
The recipe is great. I gave 4 stars because I had to read someone’s life story before getting to the actual recipe
Angela, there is a link at the start of this page that says “jump to recipe”. You could have used that and saved all of us from reading your mean-spirited post.
And Julie, thank you for posting this recipe… it was a childhood favorite of mine, and I’m so excited to bake them this year.
No, you really did not have to do anything sunshine..This recipe as well as most all recipes posted online always begin with a story behind them or a sweet and loving memory as to why the author/chef feels this recipe is note worthy. Then you scroll down to see each step as it should appear while preparing. Scroll further down and you will always see the printable recipe in its condensed version. You must be new to looking up recipes online maybe a younger person which would explain the insulting snarky comment intended to hurt the person who not only took time out of their day to write and photograph but format and post and comment helpful tips all for free without anything in return except knowing she encouraged strangers to try this recipe in the easy well laid out format she made just to give unselfishly. Maybe instead of posting an unkind hurtful comment from now on you should ask yourself why in the world would i feel the right to be mean to someone who posted a free recipe with pictures and printable version? Then tackle the recipe research. Good manners gratitude appreciation and being polite are not optional those are qualities you have to possess. Be the change you want to see in this world. If you continue to be disrespectful one day you may reap and harvest every unkindness and hurt you planted in others. Karma is patient but never forgetful and everything you do or do not do comes back returns to you ten fold. Leave your mark on others as kind and loving and know that negative remarks intended to hurt someone only make you look very pitiful, uneducated immature and clearly as you do not respect yourself enough to have the capacity to respect others. This saddens me to wonder as a mother of 6, where your mother went how much time was wasted on not listening to you and treasuring your every word. Where was your mother when you needed to learn how to communicate without hurting others how much were you hurt? How did people in your family speak to you or to each other? You can communicate without cruelty very easily when you accept that you did not deserve to be verbally abused. It is okay to be angry that you went through this and it is okay for you to no longer accept disrespect verbal abuse or any other abusive mean cruelty from this point onward. It is your right and only you can stop the cycle of abuse and choose to no longer endure accept or enable that abuse. I am coming from a loving place in my heart and please know that we all have bad days but you never know what impact a loving or cruel word has on someones life. Look how much time i spent because your comment hurt me, someone who was reading the tips and comments. Your comment hurt me and every person who read it. This is your mark on the world you left for strangers excited to bake cookies for those they love..so unkind. You can be better do better and feel better. Next time you feel mean dont purge your hate on the innocent. Journals and counselors help so much. Sending you love and encouragement as a sister from the same Creator. If you or anyone you know are experiencing abuse in any form know that there is help phone call or via texting call , confidential help, 24/7, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) .
Oh my, I’m a psychologist/mental health counselor and this is the VERY best reply I’ve ever seen to a snarky comment!! And you! A mother of 6, writing this on Christmas Eve afternoon?? We should all be blessed by your thoughtful reply!
Loved this comment! Thank you.
Two things: First, it’s unhelpful to everyone else when you give a recipe less stars because of something that’s not related to the recipe at all. When people are looking up recipes online, and looking at how many stars various recipes have, they are assuming those stars are a reflection of how good people found the recipe itself. Second, at the top of the page you can just click on “Jump to recipe” if you don’t want to read the story about how the recipe came to be.
Just made these for my sister’s baby shower, turned out pretty good! They tasted delicious, looked nice. Were tricky at first to figure out the rolling and not getting “hallow” looking cookies from the ends. My chocolate layer turned out much lighter…kind of like a light milk chocolate color… Any suggestions? I used the semi sweet chocolate chips, should I use a bit more or add cocoa powder too?
Everyone loved them, I’ll be making them again!
Hi Tiffany – using semi sweet chocolate chips will change the color. I use unsweetened chocolate for mine – which is just cocoa solids and cocoa butter and much darker in color. The chocolate chips will definitely work as far as producing a cookie, but the end result is a much lighter color. I’m glad everyone liked them! (And I’ve been making these cookies since I was 10 and still usually have to eat the end pieces myself because the very edge winds up a little hollow!)
I use a bit of water on my fingertips and seal the vanilla chocolate dough all the way to the edges this prevents separation and i chill in freezer so it doesnt go hollow. Hope this helps
Can I use regular milk chocolate, or should I just use unsweetened chocolate?
You can use milk chocolate, but it will result in less chocolate flavor and a much lighter brown color in the swirl.
Is a wet dough before you dived it or is it supposed to be a moldeablekind of dough?
Hi Norma — the dough is very sticky, but shouldn’t be so wet that it’s soupy. It will stick to your hands and the cling wrap until it’s been refrigerated… definitely sticker than something like Play-Doh!
I think my mom used to to make these; but she would use almond extract. Could that be substituted for the vanilla extract in the recipe? Thank you and I cannot wait to try to bake these.
Absolutely – almond extract would be delicious! Just use less than vanilla extract because it’s so strong – I’d probably use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract + 1/2 teaspoon almond extract.
I’ve wanted to make these cookies for years! I’d like the edges to be decorated in red and green sugars. Will the sugar stick to the roll or should I use a coating of egg white wash on the roll before I sprinkle on the sugar? Thanks so much for your help.
Hi Jeanette! I’ve never tried this myself so I can’t say for sure. The dough is cold when it’s sliced, so my guess is that sprinkles won’t stick well. You could always slice while still very cold to get even slices, then try to let the dough warm up to room temperature before rolling. Otherwise an egg white wash – or even a little water or simple sugar mixture – will work!
I have a recommendation for chilling the rolled cookies. I slit,the long way, gift wrap cardboard rolls and put the wrapped cookie roll inside,seal with rubber bands and out in frige. It keeps them round!
This is a genius tip! Thank you for sharing!
If I dont have an electric mixer can I mix by hand?
Hi Julie – if you can mix by hand until the batter is perfectly smooth, then absolutely. You’ll definitely want to chill the batter really well before rolling since the butter will have to be pretty soft to mix by hand.
Should you cut each dough into four strips and roll each strip into a 6×7 rectangle or the each entire dough into the rectangle?
These cookies have become one of my favorites. I often add orange zest to get the flavors of chocolate and orange. My question – how big are the cookies in the photographs? My cookies are not nearly as big as the ones shown, and this may be due to tricks of photography. I would like my cookies to be the size shown.
I have on occasion made a couple of very small (in diameter) rolls that make small cookies. Comments I receive on these tiny cookies are – I like taking four or five of these as I feel like I am eating more cookies. These are easier to nibble on while I am working at the computer.
These are ideal to wrap and freeze so you can pull them out and make a few at a time for a quick treat at night.
Hi Elizabeth – the cookies are pretty small! The plate in the picture is a dessert sized plate, to give you an idea of how many cookies are fitting on the plate – not a dinner sized plate. Or, for reference, this is a normal sized half sheet pan, and you can see that I fit 20 cookies on the sheet, which should be a good indicator of their size. Are you fitting a similar number of cookies on your sheet pan with similar spacing between cookies? Definitely did not mean to lead anyone astray with the size, which is specifically why I include a picture of them on a cookie sheet!
If I wanted to make a chocolate and peanut butter pinwheel cookie do you have any ideas how I might adjust the recipe? Or would it just not work for other reasons?
I have it tried this yet, but I REALLY appreciate you adding variations that sound scrumptious!
I’m going right now to try them with raspberry jam.Yum! How about chocolate dough with the jam?
Chocolate and jam is delicious together – maybe try raspberry or cherry? Two of my favorite fruit flavors to pair with chocolate!
These look so pretty…I was wondering what a chocolate/almond combination would taste like. If I used almond extract instead of vanilla, how much do you think I should add? Same proportions as vanilla or different? Thank you!
Using almond extract would be DELICIOUS – I love chocolate and almond together! Almond extract is much stronger flavored so I’d decrease the vanilla extract to 1 teaspoon and add in 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract.
I found this recipe to make because they are memories from my childhood, and I’m certain I’ve made them in the past, but not recently. But I don’t find anything offputting about the recipe at all. I’m quite confident that I can roll them up and make them look beautiful, and as an additional note, I have a daughter, who is also a pediatric oncologist and quite a good cook herself .. of course science and cooking go together like tea and crumpets☺️