Black and White Cookies

Back in 2003, I had the good fortune to live in New York City for two awesome years. If you’ve never been, it really is one of the most amazing cities in the world. One of the many great things about NY is the huge variety of food and drink available to you. In some cases, you can rarely get the food anywhere else outside of the New York area. One example? Black and white cookies, sometimes referred to as New York black and whites.

Have you ever had a black and white cookie? Have you even heard of them? They’re pretty much a New York specialty, but thanks to the glory of the internet, they’re gaining attention in other regions as well. Since I was in NYC for a while, I know firsthand how good a black and white cookie can be. Unfortunately, I also know firsthand how bad they can be.

Ideally, a black and white should be a thick, soft cookie with a very mild lemon flavor, topped with a sweet vanilla icing on one half and a rich chocolate icing on the other half. More often than not, though, they are a thick, dry cookie that may or may not have a lemony flavor, with a cloyingly sweet vanilla icing on one half and a dull, brown icing being passed off as chocolate on the other half. That probably sounds like something you want to skip, but there are some signs to watch for that will help you find a good black and white cookie, and skip the bad.

First, if it’s pre-packaged in a cellophane wrapper, skip it. Those are mass produced and not worth your time or money. Second of all, if the cookie is for sale at a souvenir shop, gas station, or convenience stand, skip it. Once again, they’re more than likely mass produced, and won’t be any good. Bakeries tend to have good black and white cookies, if they make them there. My favorite black and white was in a tiny bakery at Grand Central Station. I’m sorry, I don’t remember the name of the bakery, but the cookies were huge…we’re talking almost as big as your head. They were also quite tasty. I think part of the reason was because they sold quickly, which meant that they were always making fresh cookies.

Alright, but enough tour guiding, right? Let’s get to the cookies.

You’ll need sugar, unsalted butter (at room temperature), milk (at room temperature), eggs (at room temperature), all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, salt, lemon zest (or lemon extract), and vanilla extract.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Gradually beat in the sugar until well combined and light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time (scraping the bowl between additions, as needed), until fully incorporated. Add one-third of the flour mixture and mix until just combined, followed by half of the milk, mixing until just combined. Repeat with the remaining flour and milk, ending with the final third of the flour mixture. Stir in the lemon zest (or extract) and vanilla extract until combined, being careful not to overmix.

Drop the batter by quarter cupfuls onto the prepared baking sheet(s), leaving two inches between the cookies.

Bake at 375 degrees until centers are firm and edges just begin to brown, 15 to 18 minutes.

While the cookies are baking, they will melt and spread, so be sure to leave those two inches in there. The picture above was taken about five minutes into the baking time.

They stop melting and start puffing up after another five minutes, though.

Cool the cookies for two minutes on the sheet before transferring to a wire cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before icing. Once the cookies are completely cooled, flip them over.

For the icing, you need confectioners’ sugar, water, bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate, honey, and vanilla extract.

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan set over medium high heat, bring the water and honey to a boil. Remove from heat and add half of the mixture into the sugar. Whisk until fully incorporated and smooth, adding more of the honey mixture, one teaspoon at a time, as needed. Stir in the vanilla extract. Add extra liquid very slowly to be sure that the icing doesn’t get runny.

Fill a decorating bag with a small amount of icing and snip off the end.

Draw a straight line directly across the center of the bottom of each cookie. Return any extra icing to the bowl.

Using a small offset spatula, spread vanilla icing over half of each cookie, filling it in up to the line.

Once all of the cookies have vanilla icing, stir the melted chocolate into the remaining vanilla icing. If needed, stir in any remaining honey mixture, one teaspoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached.

Again using a small offset spatula, fill in the other half of the cookie with chocolate icing.

I love that the icing dries and allows the cookies to be stacked and stored neatly, but once you bite into them, the icing is still soft and smooth under a thin, almost crisp layer. If you think it sounds amazing, wait until you actually try it!

As for the actual cookie…

…it’s soft, fluffy, but firm and cakey. It has the slightest hint of lemony flavor. If there were such a thing as a cupcake top (like a muffin top), this is what it wold be like. It’s like cake in cookie form.

Now I just have one decision to make…

…chocolate first?

Or vanilla?

Meh…who cares?! I have plenty more cookies to change things up with! Done right, these cookies really are a special treat. Enjoy!

Black and White Cookies
Makes about 18 to 24 large (about 4-inches across) cookies
Ingredients

FOR THE COOKIES
2 cups cake flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest or 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract (slightly stronger flavor)
1 cup milk

FOR THE ICING
3 ounces bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons honey
5 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

To make the cookies: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment paper; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Gradually beat in the sugar until well combined and light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time (scraping the bowl between additions, as needed), until fully incorporated. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and mix until just combined, followed by half of the milk, mixing until just combined. Repeat with the remaining flour and milk, ending with the final 1/3 of the flour mixture. Stir in the lemon zest (or extract) and vanilla extract until combined, being careful not to overmix.

Drop the batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto the prepared baking sheet(s), leaving 2 inches between the cookies. Bake until centers are firm and edges just begin to brown, 15-18 minutes. Cool the cookies for 2 minutes on the sheet before transferring to a wire cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before icing. Once the cookies are completely cooled, flip them over.

To make the icing: Melt the chocolate in a small bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan set over medium high heat, bring the water and honey to a boil. Remove from heat and add half of the mixture into the sugar. Whisk until fully incorporated and smooth, adding more of the honey mixture, 1 teaspoon at a time, as needed. Stir in the vanilla extract. Add extra liquid very slowly to be sure that the icing doesn’t get runny.

Fill a decorating bag with a small amount of icing and snip off the end. Draw a straight line directly across the center of the bottom of each cookie. Return any extra icing to the bowl. Using a small offset spatula, spread vanilla icing over half of each cookie, filling it in up to the line.

Once all of the cookie have vanilla icing, stir the melted chocolate into the remaining vanilla icing. If needed, stir in any remaining honey mixture, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached.

Again using a small offset spatula, fill in the other half of the cookie with chocolate icing.

Recipe by Darla

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Comments

  1. Kristin says

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and love it!! I should’ve commented before this, but had to interject now, as a former NY-er of the upstate variety. In upstate NY the black-and-white is called the half moon cookie, and is made with a chocolate base instead of the lemon/vanilla cookie. The icings are a little fluffier/fudgier, too.

    The master of the half moon is Hemstrought’s Bakery in Utica, NY (est. 1920ish). I never thought of trying to make them on my own until just reading your post – but here’s the recipe, at least according to this site: http://recipecircus.com/recipes/GeniaMarie/UTICASYRACUSENYDISHES/Hemstrought_Bakery_Half_Moon_Cookies_.html You should totally make/post a chocolate version!

    Anyway, thanks for all the great recipes and tips. I enjoy reading :)

  2. says

    awesome! I work in NYC down the street from grand central, they do have great cookies there…..black and whites are definitely a fav, and they are springing up all over…agree the bakeries do them best! looking forward to seeing these pics on foodgawker!

  3. Natalie says

    I was in New York last year (I live in Australia) and had my first and only black and white cookie. I loved it but had always wondered if it was authentic. After reading your post I now know it was, I bought it from that small bakery in Grand Central Station! Can’t wait to make my own now and experience a little bit of New York again.

  4. says

    Mmmmm!

    Does anyone else remember the Seinfeld episode about the black and white cookie?! That was my first thought when I saw these!

    I wouldn’t want to decide between chocolate or vanilla first, instead I would take a bite right down the middle:)

    • says

      A few people have mentioned the Seinfeld episode…and I think it must seriously be the ONLY Seinfeld episode I’ve never seen, because I can’t remember it at all!! Now, of course, I have to go watch it!! :)

  5. says

    Well…you’ve successfully got me absolutely CRAVING black and white cookies now! I’m pretty sure I’ve never had the “real” thing- I tried one from a specialty grocery store bakery once. I really, really want to make these, though- they look SO good! Beautiful pictures, too!!!

  6. AlexandraT says

    I”m so excited for this recipe. This post really takes me back to my childhood. Growing up in Atlanta my mom would get me pick a cookie out from the baker and I always picked the black and whites because they were the best of both worlds, and they were always the biggest cookie! I’ll definitely have to make these since I can’t find them anywhere in Cali. Thanks!

  7. Marcie says

    I have a recipe for Black and White Russian cookies that I’ve been wanting to try for a while now, but yours look so good I may have to try both. Or some combination of the two.

  8. Mirjam Bösebeck says

    Hi Darla.
    Here in Germany you can buy this tasty Babies in almost every Bakery.
    I have to tell you a funny thing about these cookies: Guess how they are called in Germany?
    Americans!
    I´m not kidding. If you´re in a Bakery in Germany and place the order: “Einen Amerikaner bitte” (One American please) you´ll get one of these.

    And they are sooo good ;-D

    • says

      I have heard before that these are sold in Germany as Americans! I think that’s too funny!! My husband is German, and lived there for several years a while back, but I’ve never been. I can’t wait to visit and have an American!!

  9. says

    I live in New York (Brooklyn) and have an obsession with black and whites (go figure) so my heart skipped a beat when I saw you had done some.
    The best place IMO here is William Greenberg but often the true best place is in your own kitchen so I just might have to stopped being scared of making them and go for it!

    • says

      There’s a high probability that my husband and I will be living in NY again sometime in the next 5 years, so I’m definitely going to seek out more great places to get black and whites. Thanks for the recommendation! If you make these, I hope they live up to your expectations!

  10. Sara says

    That little bakery is Zaro’s- we had their cookies at our wedding and now that I live in Chicago I miss them SO much and I have gone through me share of bad ones trying to find them out here, so I feel your pain! Your recipe looks great, guess I’ll have to try to make them myself… and oh, I like the vanilla side first, but only because I save the best for last!

  11. says

    I’m from upstate NY also — we called them half-moon cookies — and they were a great part of our childhood. Abbott Farms in Baldwinsville has the tastiest I’ve ever had; they make chocolate and vanilla cookies for the base. Ah…you took me back about 25 years. :)

  12. says

    did I just read that right? 18-24 DOZEN cookies??

    Do you think this recipe could be scaled down? Or could the batter be frozen?

    My problem is I have 3 kids (ages 4, 2.5, & 8 months) and rarely get time to bake 2 dozen cookies, let alone a whole kitchen-full!

    I think the cookie sounds divine, though. I can’t wait to try making them.

    • says

      Oh my, Susan! You don’t want 18 dozen cookies?! Hahaha! I’m sorry! It’s 18 to 24 cookies! I changed it from 2 dozen to 18-24 cookies, so people would know they may not get a full 2 dozen. Thank you so much for pointing that out to me! Sorry about that! :)

      • says

        And Obviously I wasn’t reading the recipe closely! Not enough flour for 18 dozen ;-)

        Thanks for clarifying. Definitely a can-do recipe for me now!

        …if I can remember to buy a lemon at the store next time.

    • says

      Hi Sierra, I’m not sure why some people have dryer batters than others, aside from humidity in the air. If it’s particularly dry where you live, then that could be the problem. You can try adding milk to the batter, a tablespoon at a time, until it loosens up a bit. It should still be a relatively stiff batter, but not a dough. I hope this is helpful. Sorry you’re having trouble.

  13. says

    Oh my goodness, I wish I would have found your post BEFORE I went to NYC last week. I first tried smaller, prepackaged cookies and thought “what is so special about these nasty things”, but then found a deli/bakery that made them fresh and my, oh my, that changed everything. I ate three in three days and really want more! Thanks for your recipe. I will be trying it very, very soon!

  14. Alex says

    Thank you for this recipe. I am German and we call them “Amerikaner” :-) There are sold in every bakery I have been and I could not believe they actually are from NY until I saw it myself last week.

    I will try your recipe this week. I can”t wait to have a “Amerikaner” after living in the US for a while.

  15. Victoria says

    How did you get the cookies to be such round and similar shapes? My cookie dough was too soft and sticky to be able to form a nice circular shape.

    • says

      Hi Victoria, I use a small spring-loaded scoop to transfer the batter to the cookie sheet. I use a 2 tablespoon size to put 2 scoops down for each cookie. Another way would be to use a 1/4 cup measuring cup and to pour it onto the cookie sheet so that it piles up to form a rounder shape.

      If you still have difficult, then try wetting your hands with clean, room temperature water before touching the dough. This will help prevent it from sticking to your skin. I hope this is helpful!

  16. Nancy St.Onge says

    Hi Darla,

    I have seen this cookie done with (proofed in warm milk) yeast. Any thoughts on how it would compare? I can’t find any recipes that call for yeast, though.

    • says

      Hi Nancy, I’ve never seen a black and white with yeast in it, and I’m not sure how you would add it. I can’t really imagine what that would be like. I think it would end up a tad more bready and less cakey. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful.

  17. tina r says

    searched and searched… made 4 different recipes.. king arthur .. yukkkky.. tasted like biscuits.. then 2 more flops.. but tada . your recipe saved the day.. they are great…. thank you so much for sharing…

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