Yesterdish’s Black and White Cookies

Hi friends! It’s Dori again!

A few years ago, a friend asked me to make black and white cookies for her birthday.

I love baking for friends. I love it even more when friends have specific requests — I can spend hours researching and considering desserts, so having a clear direction is a time saver.

The only problem was that I’d never actually tasted a black and white cookie.

One the white side, the sweetness of the icing brings out the slight sourness of the cookie. One the black side, lemon somehow brings out the richness of the dark chocolate.

I know, I know–never tasted a B&W cookie? Is there something wrong with me?! Well, yes, there is: I’m allergic to tree nuts. Eating baked goods that were prepared by someone other than me is a bit of a gamble (bakers love them some almond flour), so I stick to things I know. Sadly, it means that I end up avoiding most treats that are baked by others, but it’s also a big part of the reason that I got into baking.

When I’m baking something that people have an expectation about but that I’ve never tasted, I harass everyone I know to describe their perfect version of the treat. It really helps to understand the goal. I annoyed my friends endlessly when I was perfecting my mac and cheese recipe because it’s not something I grew up eating, but it helped me figure out a a recipe that people (me included) love.

It turns out I wasn’t alone in my B&W cookie ignorance. Most people I talked to were aware that they existed, but had never actually tasted one. The most common response from those who haven’t tasted them? “Isn’t it just a sugar cookie with two kinds of frosting?”

It is absolutely not a sugar cookie with two kinds of frosting. I’m very sure of this because when I asked a few B&W cookie lovers if I could just cover a sugar cookie with two kind of frosting they responded with horror and the gentle suggestion that I purchase cupcakes for my friend’s birthday. Burn.

Here is what I learned from black and white cookie aficionados: 1) B&W cookies are an NYC thing, but everyone should have tried them by now because they were featured on Seinfeld. [Not that there’s anything wrong with that. — Adam] 2) The cookie part is not a sugar cookie, it’s not even really a cookie. It’s kind of like a cake in cookie form. 3) The cookies do have chocolate and vanilla frosting, but there is another flavor to the cookie. No one could tell me what it was.

Well, it was a start.

Chef Google told me that Zabar’s was the gold standard of black and white cookies. For those of you that don’t know, Zabar’s is a deli/bakery in NYC. It’s really the happiest place on earth. I make Adam bring me back knishes and rye bread every time he goes to NYC. [I also wear a Zabar’s cap almost every day–I’ve got about eight. — Adam] So so so amazing. I would say more about it, but I feel like Adam is going to fill in something here. I’ll just say, if you are in the area, you really must go. And get as many knishes as you can carry.

Zabar’s solved the mystery flavor that people described: lemon. It’s so hard describe because the cookies don’t end up tasting lemony. They just have a slightly acidic tang that’s really unique. Just to note, lemon isn’t the only way to get this flavor. I’ve heard of people using buttermilk or vinegar, and I actually used a bit of orange extract in this batch. However you add this flavor, it’s important to add it. Without it, the cookies just taste flat.

The acidity plays so well with both sides of the cookie. One the white side, the sweetness of the icing brings out the slight sourness of the cookie. One the black side, lemon somehow brings out the richness of the dark chocolate. I understood why B&W have such a devoted following during the first bite. I’m in and I’m ready to spread the gospel.

This recipe is based on Zabar’s, but with a few changes. Most notably, the frosting. While many people describe the icing as fondant, that is weird and I refuse to accept it. For the white side I used a combo of powdered sugar, water and vanilla. For the black side, I added unsweetened cocoa powder, honey, and a few drops of vegetable oil to leftover white frosting. It’s a great alternative to traditional chocolate glazes (usually chocolate and heavy cream) because it will actually set. Traditional glazes are trickier than they sound. The food blogs of the internet are awash with poorly executed glazes. Don’t be a victim! Use this one instead!

[A few words about the history of the black-and-white cookie: nobody is really sure where it started. If you aren’t familiar with New York, this may baffle you, but I lived there for seven years, and I can assure you this is normal. Real New Yorkers have never approached food in the petty way that a certain croissant/doughnut baker has, by trying to shut down his competition. That’s why there are hundreds of Ray’s Pizzas and several of variations of Fresco Tortilla Taco restaurants.

I am sure where it didn’t start: Utica, New York, as “half-moons.” For some reason, food writers want to fill the void that’s the mystery of New York’s black-and-white with its upstate cousin, the dark chocolate drop cake with fudge and vanilla icing. Two problems with this theory. One, their structural similarity is basically irrelevant; all cookies started as drop cakes, many drop cakes were iced. Two, the timeline doesn’t work. Black and white cookies were reportedly being made in NYC around 1902, while the half-moon wasn’t invented until 1925.

Until someone brings me the receipt for a half-moon cookie stapled to a train ticket to New York dated 1900, I don’t buy it.]

A couple of things to know if you’re going to try this recipe —

When making the batter/dough for the cookies, don’t panic if your mixture looks like cottage cheese before adding the flour. Just add the flour and everything will be ok, I promise!

When making the glazes, start with a lot of sugar and just a tiny bit of water (1 Tbs), add when you need to, but do it slowly. Use a spatula to paint the white side on all your cookies first, wait until it sets and then paint the black side.

These cookies are so fun and easy to do. I hope you give them a shot!

From Yesterdish’s recipe box.

Yesterdish’s Black and White Cookies

1-3/4 c. sugar
1 c. butter
4 large eggs
1-1/2 c. milk
1/2 t. vanilla
1/4 t. lemon extract
2-1/2 c. flour
2-1/2 c. cake flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
powdered sugar
2-4 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 T. honey

Heat oven to 375 deg.

Cream butter and sugar; add eggs, one at a time. Add milk, vanilla, [and] lemon extract.

Combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Add flour mixture to butter and sugar mixture. Stir until smooth. Scoop cookies onto baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

White glaze: combine powdered sugar and water

Black glaze: combine powdered sugar, water, cocoa powder, honey.

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  1. By » Black and White Cookies October 5, 2013 at 11:36 am

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