Black and Whites (18 large cookies)
So someone miiiiight have spilled a mug of tea on her laptop Thanksgiving weekend, and it might have been me. With my computer in the shop, I spent a lot of time pondering Cylons, wondering if an external hard drive qualified as a resurrection ship and whether or not a new computer would still be my computer even if it shared all the same memories. Without the internet, I also had a lot of time to ponder cookies.
Immediately before the Mug o Tea incident, I’d come back from New York with a powerful Black & White craving.
I’d never heard of Black and Whites until watching the "look to the cookie" episode of Seinfeld as a kid. Neverminding the part where Jerry throws up after, I came down with a major case of cookie lust. Of course you couldn’t (and still can’t) get one in Kentucky, so I’d have to wait half a decade to enjoy “two races of flavor living side by side.”
Not that I could say I enjoyed the experience when it finally came. I bought my first one from a shabby wicker basket next to the register at a Hudson News in Grand Central, circa 1999. It tasted like disappointment and plastic wrap.
Even so, I’ve continued to buy them at every chance and no matter how bad the cookie, I’m always convinced I’m the one with the problem. I’m the one who keeps buying them at the wrong places. The weekend before Thanksgiving was no different. I came home, yet again, having missed a chance to encounter a pillowy soft vanilla cookie under a thin sheen of chocolate and vanilla frosting.
Not having a computer meant taking a break from the book, which gave me a chance to tinker with this recipe until I got it just where I wanted it. Maybe you can point me to the top secret New York bakery where I’ll find black and white nirvana but, until then, these will do nicely.
The cookie itself can go toe-to-toe with any of those fluffy, frosted sugar cookies you find at the grocery, so use whatever frosting you like for your cookies, it don’t matter if they’re black or white.
Black and White Cookies, about 18 large cookies
12 ounces all purpose flour
5 1/2 ounces unsalted butter or leaf lard*
10 ounces sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
3 1/2 ounces egg whites
6 ounces buttermilk
24 ounces powdered sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 ounce corn syrup
4 ounces whole milk, plus extra for thinning chocolate frosting
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ounce cocoa powder
Preheat the oven to 350° F and have two parchment lined sheet pans at the ready.
I like tracing out circles on the parchment and piping the cookies in a spiral, to ensure they’re all the same size and thickness. The snail-shell swirl of cookie batter will smooth out as it bakes. If obsessive uniformity isn’t your thing, all you need’s a spoon.
Sift the flour and set aside.
Combine the butter or leaf lard, sugar, baking powder, soda, salt and vanilla bean scrapings and cream together until light and fluffy, about 6 minutes. Stop mixing halfway through to scrape the bowl down thoroughly.
Add the egg whites, in about three additions, while mixing continuously. Turn the mixer to low and add the flour all at once, then drizzle in the buttermilk. Mix until homogenous.
Pipe out 9 cookies per tray, or scoop the batter in 3-tablespoon portions. Two scoops from a #40 cookie scoop (1.5 Tablespoon capacity), works perfectly. After scooping, use the back of the spoon to spread each portion into a 4” circle.
Bake about eight minutes, or until the cookies have puffed and just begun to set in the center.
While the cookies cool, make up the frosting.
Sift the powdered sugar into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a food processor. Add in the salt, corn syrup, milk and vanilla. Pulse or mix until you have a smooth icing.
If you want mathematical precision in your cookies, use a large cookie cutter to trim each into a perfect circle. If opting for this method, transfer the cut cookies to a clean sheet of parchment to keep those pesky crumbs from getting into the frosting. They’ll find a way, trust me.
Now, apologies if this violates some major B&W principle, but I can’t bring myself to frost them upside down (as seems traditional). This makes the cookie a million percent more likely to crack in the process, and also more of a pain, so I frost them dome side up.
To do this, dab a tablespoon of vanilla icing over each cookie, using the back of your spoon to coax the icing down and over the edges. This is especially important if you cut the cookies, since the cut edges need to be sealed to prevent the cookies from drying out.
Once all of the cookies are glazed, add the cocoa powder to the frosting and mix until smooth. Add in a little extra milk, about a tablespoon, to make the frosting creamy again.
Take a small spoonful of chocolate frosting and drizzle it down the middle of the cookie, then spread it away from the center and down to the edges. If you’d like a very sharp line between black and white, lay a piece of butcher’s twine down the middle of the cookie to give yourself a guideline.
If you’re not a literalist, the chocolate works just as well splattered on to the cookie in abstract swirls and splotches.
Let the cookies sit at room temperature, uncovered, until the frosting has crusted over. Once the frosting has dried, stack the cookies in an airtight container with parchment placed between the layers. The cookies will keep for two or three days.
*I almost didn’t even mention leaf lard in the recipe, since it’s such an obscure ingredient for those outside the South, but it does something amazing in these cookies. It adds an unbelievable, almost umami-like dimension that you have to taste to understand. For everyday deliciousness, butter gets the job done nicely. I just felt like I had to tell ya in case, you know, you found some leaf lard and wanted to make cookies.
Dec 18, 2012 · 11:50 PM
Ooooh! I’ve never made them yet but I’ve had them at William Greenberg Desserts in NYC. I can’t wait to try your version. And I’ve got leaf lard on hand!
For some reason, I keep thinking fiori di sicilia is a traditional ingredient in black and whites? I don’t know why I think that.
· Sheri · porkcracklins.com
Dec 19, 2012 · 8:05 AM
I, too, have always wanted to like B&Ws, but “disappointment and plastic wrap” is a good description of what I’ve found in NYC. Looks like you’ve remedied that. Bravo!
· Michelle · gourmandistan.com
Dec 19, 2012 · 9:13 AM
Leaf lard? Now I know I could do a google search but I had to comment since just last night (I’m in the UK) I was reading Mrs Beeton and she mentioned some pudding or other in which you start off rendering some piece or other of pork until you get “leafs” or “fleafs” and then mix that in with the rest of the (sweet) ingredients. I just couldn’t get my head round the whole concept. Too weird! And that’s coming from someone who lives in the land of mince pies (sweet with suet) and spotted dick (also sweet with suet) and Yorkshire Pudding (not sweet and served with roast beef). So… is this the same thing as my Victorian friend describes??
I can’t help with your existential cylon problems, but then I haven’t got (don’t judge) past the second episode of the third series yet. Must add that to “to do in 2013” or before the cylons arrive, whichever comes first.
Dec 19, 2012 · 9:59 AM
@Sheri, ooh, thanks for the recommendation! Heading up to NYC next month, so I’ll put it on my list, awesome! I don’t know if fiori di sicilia is traditional for all B&Ws, but it is definitely a thing! There’s a recipe for that variation over on Salon.
@Michelle, whew. I’m glad it’s not just me.
@kiki, duuuuh!! How have I managed to not get one there after all these years? Will do!
@Lou, I’m no savory expert, but my understanding is that leaf lard comes from a particular part of the pig that is considered choicest. It’s rendered in such a way as to have an extremely mild flavor. It sounds like a wacky choice for pastry, but it creams so very well (which makes the cookie extra fluffy) and is fattier than butter (making it extra moist) and it adds a richness that isn’t piggy at all. Just delicious. I promise.
@rob, ahh! Thanks so much. Sharp eyes!
@Maria, thanks for seconding those recommendations! And for the fiori di sicilia confirmation too.
Dec 19, 2012 · 2:08 PM
Leaf lard is awesome. I can find it here in the Pacific NW—actually I just buy the leaf fat and render it myself. Way easier than anyone would imagine, and keeps for a super long time in the fridge!
· Cowen Park Kitchen · cowenparkkitchen.blogspot.com
Dec 19, 2012 · 2:10 PM
I’m a “dome-side-up” froster too. I did just discover that Zabars in NYC will ship black & whites anywhere in the county. I’m curious how they ship, they have such a great classic cookie.
· Jackie @ TheBeeroness · thebeeroness.com
Dec 20, 2012 · 3:07 AM
You frosted the DOME side?? Sigh. (JK)
· Cathy @ Savory Notes · www.savorynotes.com
Dec 20, 2012 · 9:05 AM
I believe in you…if anyone can save the black and white from it’s history of sucking you can. I’ve always wanted that cookie to be good because it represents nyc and it’s a good looking cookie. Thank you! You should get some sort of gold dusted Seinfeld boxed set or something.
· fatpiginthemarket · http://fatpiginthemarket.com/
Dec 20, 2012 · 9:51 AM
I guess everyone taps into his/her own memories of these gems. Mine come from the Jewish bakeries of the Bronx in the sixties. I never heard them called “cookies” until that Seinfeld episode. They’re simply “black and whites.” (And look at them — they’re not cookies!!) I am sure, a thousand percent, that there was no leaf lard in them, ever! (There was probably no butter or other milk product either.) The cake part was always a perfect combination of dense and light, a pound cake mixed with an angel cake, if you can imagine such a thing. As kids we would always scrutinize the display case so we could choose the black and white with the most chocolate. Oh my, but they were good. I still live in New York, but black and whites are now nostalgic. Those plastic-wrapped things are an abomination. So I am glad to see that you’ve taken matters into your own capable hands. I think I will give them a try. (But without the lard.)
Dec 20, 2012 · 10:33 AM
@Cathy, I know, I’m such a faker.
@Jen, awwww, thank you! I think this is the longest I’ve ever gone between posts. Hopefully I won’t get this far behind again (and that I keep my mug of tea faaaaaaar away from the computer).
@fatpiginthemarket, haha, yes! Christmas is around the corner…
@CHN, omg, definitely no lard in a Jewish deli treat! I never stopped to think about what a huge faux pas my substitution would be in the historical context of the black and white. Wish I could time travel back to the 60s with you, I’d love to taste that original magic.
Dec 22, 2012 · 11:51 AM
@Luis, so saw we all.
Dec 27, 2012 · 10:53 PM
Hi Stella, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Thank you for all the interesting posts and for inspiring me to start blogging. May I nominate you for an award, or are you past that stage?
· Radhika · sinsationscakes.wordpress.com
Dec 28, 2012 · 9:53 AM
I grew up in NY and I never enjoyed black and white cookies. A true black and white cookie has a hint of lemon in it (which is probably why I disliked them… lemon + chocolate = blech). Although they are not a favorite of mine, my brother and my children enjoy them. I have an old, spot-on recipe I can send you if you like.
Dec 28, 2012 · 10:52 AM
Hi Radhika, awww! I don’t think I’ve ever received any awards for my blog, so I can’t say I’m past that stage, haha. You’re so sweet!
Gabrielle, omg. Yes. Lemon + chocolate = fail. Thank you for offering to share your family recipe, I’d love to take a peek at it!
Dec 29, 2012 · 8:46 PM
and you did them the right way
even the the frosting is done just like in the olden days
· vanillasugarblog · http://vanillakitchen.blogspot.com
Dec 29, 2012 · 9:16 PM
@vanillasugarblog, awww, yay!!! So happy to get it right in your eyes. Happy baking!
Feb 17, 2013 · 9:56 PM
Hi Michelle! Thanks for the tip, I’ll have to stop in and grab one next time I’m up North.
Jul 21, 2013 · 2:47 PM
Love all your recipes. Every single one’s been a hit so far.
I made these this morning, still waiting for them to cool so they can be frosted later in the afternoon.
There is something probably worth noting though – you specified here to bake the cookies for 8 minutes. Well, at the 8-minute mark, those babies were definitely not done. Very, very spongy; runny, even.
So I went with gut instinct and added another 10 minutes so it’d be a comfortable 18 minutes. And they turned out beautiful.
And I did make them with leaf lard! Huuuuge difference from the usual butter-based sugar cookie. Like you said, there’s that lovely umami finish that sets them a world apart.
Can’t wait to frost them. Will share photos <3
· snowmask · katherine-cheng.com
Jul 21, 2013 · 6:38 PM
Hi snowmask! Thanks for taking the time to leave some feedback on your bake times! I’ve got a convection oven at work, which explains the discrepancy. I need to think of an eloquent way to make a note of that somewhere, or factor in for a more generous bake time in the recipes.
So excited for you to try them with leaf lard, it’s such a wonderfully unique flavor. Hope you enjoy the frosted version, I’ll be excited to see how they turn out!
Mar 22, 2014 · 8:50 PM
Sorry for reviving an ancient thread, but George Greenstein in “Secrets of a Jewish Baker” has these made with vegetable shortening — the base recipe is “wine loaf” (corruption of the German for Vienna, I think). He recommends piping out a test round first, and adjusting the amount of flour if it flattens too much when baked.
The base ends up almost cake-like. I wouldn’t be surprised if the original wien loaf was made with lard — not too many good vegetable shortenings way back when — but Crisco works fine for me, and I think butter would be distracting given the relatively light glaze on top.
No lemon or other exotic flavorings, although some reputable recipes include these.
As for Zabar’s by mail, I was not impressed — certainly tasty, but they were not great.
Mar 23, 2014 · 8:28 PM
Hi NerdDad, it’s never to late to revive an ancient thread! Thanks for the info on the wien loaf, that’s so interesting. Shortening is definitely a great option for anyone who can’t have lard (myself included, as I’m allergic to pork!), as is refined coconut oil.
I always heard black and whites started out as a way for bakers to polish off an extra ounce or two of cake batter, though I don’t know how accurate that story is. I finally got around to trying Zabar’s, and like you I was not impressed. It’s a tough cookie to crack!
Jun 18, 2014 · 10:32 AM
Thanks for the tip, Jeremy! I’ve never been, but it’s now marked on my hysterical little google-map of flagged places to visit (yes, I’m that compulsive).
Feb 02, 2015 · 11:14 AM
Just found you—love your site. About black and whites, I come from Syracuse, NY and we never called them black and white—we know them as half moon cookies! Tried the packaged version ugh!! The cookie part of my half moon is soft and luscious but I am going to try yours also.
Feb 04, 2015 · 12:33 AM
I grew up loving Half-Moon Cookies! (Utica-Rome, NY area). Orginally the base was always chocolate and top was a soft white/chocolate frosting combo. You turn the cookies over and frost the flat bottom(half white/half black). The cookies are almost like a cake consistency. And the frosting stays soft! About 35-40 years ago they started making half-moons with white cake bottoms & solid chocolate frosting, or the traditional half white/half dark frosting. My daughter lives in NYCity and can’t find a half-moon (black and white) cookie that tastes good anyplace. Whenever she comes home she goes to the original bakery we grew up buying them at to get her Half-Moon Cookie fix!