I’m half New Yorker (well, Brooklynite) by heritage, and I always enjoyed New York foods (think bagels, hot pastrami, halvah, knishes), but the appeal of the black-and-white cookie has eluded me.
Technically ,says William Grimes writing in the New York Times in 1998, it’s not a cookie at all but a drop cake, made from a slightly-stiffer-than-cupcake batter that’s dropped by the heaping tablespoon onto baking sheets.
Maybe that’s why I never liked them. They had no cookie crunch, and tasted like stale yellow cake.
Dutch settlers probably brought the cookie to the New World – the word comes from Dutch koekje, which is pronounced the same way. Initially cookies may have been miniature cakes, which is the meaning of the word (“little cake”).
Similar to half-moons
Some believe the black-and-white descended from the “half moon,” a cookie popular in upstate New York and New England. Wikipedia dates them to the half moons made by Hemstrought’s bakery in Utica, NY in the early 20th century.
Others trace the black-and-white to the now-closed Glaser’s Bake Shop on New York’s east side, where it was one of the original recipes of the founders, Bavarian immigrants.
What sets the black-and-white apart from other cookies is the use of hard fondant, rather than frosting, to create the half-moons of black and white on top of the cake-like base.
Writing in the blog Serious Eats in 2013, Max Falkowicz says the black-and-white cookie is usually bland and tough, and the fondant top is usually sweet and waxy, little more than “a sugary lid.” He says it’s a creative challenge to do them well.
Falkowicz likes the black-and-whites made by Nussbaum & Wu in the Morningside Heights section of the city, with this caveat: “Be sure to eat it quick: by the next day it dries out into a tough mass, a Cinderella cookie after the stroke of midnight.”
Look to the cookie!
The New York Times’ Grimes says much of the appeal of the black-and-white cookie is like that of the Oreo: one could fiddle with it:
If the cookie was topped with a soft frosting, you could lick it off. A brittler frosting could be lifted from the soft cookie base in small chunks, held in the mouth and savored. You could also separate the cookie into two halves, one black and one white, creating two cookies, or leave the cookie whole and take alternating bites from each side until the whole thing disappeared.
Many Americans first learned of the black-and-white cookie in 1994, when, in Episode 74 of the classic sitcom Seinfeld, Jerry makes the cookie into an anti-racist icon (sorry you have to watch a short ad first with this link).
Standing in a bakery with Elaine, Jerry nibbles on a black-and-white and muses that its design makes a statement for racial harmony. “Look to the cookie,” he says. Unfortunately it doesn’t end so well for him!
If you live nowhere near New York and would like to try making black-and-whites on your own, here’s a recipe from the New York Times.
- 1¾ cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 4 large eggs
- 1½ cups milk
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp. lemon extract
- 2½ cups cake flour
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1/3 to ½ cup boiling water
- 1 oz. bittersweet chocolate
- 1 tsp. light corn syrup
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Spray two baking sheets with nonstick spray or line with parchment paper.
- In large mixing bowl, combine sugar and butter. Mix by machine or hand until fluffy.
- Add eggs, milk and vanilla and lemon extracts, and mix until smooth.
- In a medium bowl, combine cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Stir until mixed.
- Add dry mixture to the wet in batches, stirring well after each addition.
- Using a soup spoon, place heaping spoonfuls of the dough 2 inches apart on the baking sheets.
- Bake until edges begin to brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool completely.
- Place confectioners' sugar in large mixing bowl. Gradually stir in enough boiling water to the sugar to make a thick, spreadable mixture.
- Put half the frosting in the top half of a double-boiler. Add the chocolate and corn syrup, and set over simmering water. Warm the mixture, stirring, until chocolate is melted and frosting is smooth. Turn off the heat, but leave chocolate frosting over hot water to keep it spreadable.
- With a brush, coat half of the top of each cookie with chocolate frosting, and the other half with white frosting.
- Let dry, and store in an airtight container.
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