Black and white cookies are the kind of New York City deli classic that I love recreating at home. If you’re not from around here, you might not have ever seen or tasted one, but that doesn’t mean you’re missing a whole lot. Nearly every one I have tried since setting foot in NYC in 2000 has rather disappointed. Because the cookie is really a cake, they get stale quite quickly, but this doesn’t convince deli and bodega owners to yank their plastic shrink-wrapped versions before they’re sold. Your best bet? Make them at home and wow all of the Brooklyn natives in the audience.
Back in the day, black and white cookies were actually made by bakeries from their leftover cake batters, with just a little extra flour mixed in so the cookie didn’t spread all over the place. Sometimes called Amerikaner Cookies, they’re also occasionally referred to as “half-moons” Upstate and in New England. However, with a chocolate cake base, not the traditional vanilla/lemon one, they’re not the same thing, not to split hairs or anything.
These days they have something of a cult following. I even ran across a blog entirely dedicated to tracking them down. But mostly, they were put back on the map by the famous Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine are trying to track down the last chocolate babka in the city and he muses that black and white live so harmoniously on top of the classic cookie, perhaps people should “look to the cookie” to solve all of our problems. [Later in the episode he has indigestion and says he’s “got David Duke and Farrakhan going at it down there.”]
Old New Yorkers will tell you that you can learn a lot about someone by the way they eat a black and white cookie. Do you eat the light or dark side first? Do you nibble from both and meet in the delicious middle? Do you lick the frosting off and sometimes forget about the cookie that’s left?
Me, I go right down the middle, but then again, I’ve never liked to choose.
The Martha Show, 9/17/08: Andy Warhol once said that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. Well, Smitten Kitchen got 15 seconds yesterday, and they were on the Martha Stewart Show, in an episode about blogging. What fun I had! Martha asked some questions and put up a screen shot of the current most popular recipe on this site, the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake. I promise to plug in the video link as soon as it is up online. [And there it is!]
Other highlights of the day were meeting Mr. Matt Armendariz of MattBites.com baking his now-even-more-famous alfajores cookies with Martha. He was a total charmer, and as much fun to meet in person as you would expect. I also got to chat with the adorable Meg Frost from CuteOverload.com (OMG! PONIES!!1!) the whole show, which made it even better. I never got to ask Martha what I wanted to–namely, her favorite and least favorite things to cook–but there’s always next time, right?
After the show, Lisa and I tagged along with Matt as he went up to the Everyday Food Test Kitchen, which is seriously the most heavenly place. We had samples of [bleep] and [bleep] and also some amazing [bleep] that will be featured in upcoming issues, and are therefore top secret priority information, and hung out with the magazine’s really fun editors. I came out completely inspired to cook, as you can see above.
Black and White Cookies
Adapted from a bunch of places, but mostly Zabar’s
Traditional black and white cookies are BIG and LOUD, not unlike the New Yorkers that made them famous. Preferring everything on the daintier side, I’ve made them very small before, but this time went for a nice medium size.
Yield: About 2 dozen very large cookies, 60 medium (I used a scoop 1 3/4 inches in diameter that yielded 3-inch cookies) or so many cookies that you might lose your mind frosting them if you go tinier. I’m just saying.
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
2 1/2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup water
3 ounces very bitter or unsweetened chocolate
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1 to 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 2 baking sheets with nonstick spray, or line with parchment paper.
2. In large mixing bowl, combine sugar and butter. Mix by machine or hand until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, then milk and vanilla and lemon extracts, and mix until smooth. Scrape down bowl.
3. In 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.
4. Boil a cup or so of water in a small pot. Place confectioners’ sugar in large, heat-safe mixing bowl. Gradually stir in enough boiling water to the sugar to make a thick, spreadable mixture. Err on the side of caution because a too-thin frosting is hard to undo. Leave remaining boiling water on the stove.
5. Spread frosting on half of the flat side of each cookie. Once all cookie halves have been frosted, place the bowl of the remaining frosting over the hot water and bring it back to a simmer (creating a double-boiler). Stir in the bitter or unsweetened chocolate until melted, as well as the light corn syrup. At this point, depending on the chocolate you used and your preferences, you might find the chocolate color to be a little lighter than the “black” of a black-and-white cookie. If so, I find that a tablespoon or so of cocoa mixed in darkens the color nicely.
6. Ice the remaining half of the cookies with the chocolate frosting. I find that the chocolate–especially with cocoa in it–is especially prone to getting too dry, so don’t worry about whisking in an extra teaspoon of that hot water from time to smooth it back into a shiny frosting.
7. Let the frosting set. Store in an airtight container. These cookies keep for a few days, but I think they’re best on the first or second. Because of the cake nature of the bases, they can get stale quickly. However, this is really a non-issue as I have yet to make a batch that didn’t get polished off in no time.