With its muddled history, regional ubiquity, and strict eating protocol (you have to try to get both chocolate and vanilla into as many bites as possible), the black and white cookie is as cranky and lovable as New York itself. Here's how to make classic New York black and white cookies, saucer-sized with chocolate and vanilla icing.Yum
New York black and white cookies: there's a scene in a Seinfeld episode dedicated to them. They're omnipresent on cookie trays at all the happy and not-so-happy occasions. And, of course, they're on forever display, in shrink-wrapped plastic, along deli counters and bodegas alongside the coffee cake and muffins. Gefilteria, a New York establishment that celebrates Ashkenazi cooking heritage, has a recipe in their cookbook for a genius version that's just the black and white stripe, a.k.a. the best part of the cookie, so every bite can be a vanilla-chocolate mix. (Needless to say, I adore this cookbook in the glowingest terms.)
We conquered the tricky bits of making black and whites back when we were Eating New York. Then we made black and mochas, in ode to one of my favorite, now shuttered, bakeries, Nussbaum & Wu. Today, we're turning to the classic, and making them dairy-free, too.
Is the black and white a Jewish cookie?
An interesting facet of New York food lore is the association of several popular cookies with Jewish bakeries, which apparently used to be a dominant force in the Tri-State's culinary landscape. Some are universally acknowledged to be solidly Jewish in heritage, especially rugelach (though the matter of American vs. Israeli rugelach shall, in the due course of time, fall under our scrutiny). Then there are the liminal cookies, like black and whites and rainbow cookies, that are associated with the New York Jewish scene but are also, curiously, claimed by remaining Italian-American style bakeries. Really, there's a lot of sympatico between New York Jewish and New York Italian so it all works out to be a characteristically New York food tradition, imbued with faded Italian and Yiddish accents.
In a nod to its Jewishness, most commercially sold black and whites are parve, made without dairy, so you can eat them as the dessert to a meat meal. On the other hand, most recipes, including the one in the Greenberg's cookbook, are dairy, often calling for buttermilk. Here we're swapping in almond milk and keeping things dairy-free.
Anatomy of a black and white
Let's talk key characteristics. A New York black and white cookie is cakelike in texture and slightly domed. (See my Black and Mocha Cookies post for a cross-section shot.) It's the flat side, i.e. the bottom, that gets iced, not the domed top. The cookie must be scented with lemon zest. And, in my opinionated worldview, it requires the old-world flavor of almond extract as well, a Jewish bakery classic.
Now, as to size: New York black and whites are huge, the size of a saucer. For cookies trays, they're also made smaller. This recipe will give you 6 oversized cookies, 8 large cookies, or 10 smaller, cookie-tray-sized cookies.
A few specialty ingredients
Black and whites require a few ingredients you might not keep stocked: cake flour, shortening (I like the organic versions made by Spectrum or Nutiva), almond extract, and corn syrup (or glucose, outside of the US). I know that's kind of annoying, but these are a project cookie. It's pretty much the only way to get a fresh, authentic black and white outside of the Tri-State, and for that, we will labor. Yes? I made many failed batches of these trying to wiggle out of tracking down more cake flour and the like, and I can report that nothing works nearly as well as the persnickety recipe. Nevertheless, when piped (read on for that), all-purpose flour will work also.
Piping black and white cookies
It nearly killed me before I figured it out: you cannot get the proper black and white cookie shape without piping the cookie dough. While many recipes will tell you you can use a large cookie scoop, you can't. Something about the surface tension of the piped dough allows these cakey cookies to hold their shape instead of spreading all over the baking sheet. You just pipe them in large circles (we're talking 3" / 8cm, which end up about 4-5" / 10-12 cm after baking, for the full sized cookie) and they come out with flat bottoms and domed tops, and all is well in the world of cookies.
Icing the cookies
Icing the cookies is the trickiest part, but once you get the hang of it, it's actually not too difficult to achieve the characteristic sharp division line down the center of the cookie. You want to ice the flat bottom of the cookie, the part that was in contact with the baking sheet, rather than the domed top.
The viscosity of the icings is important. Too thin and it'll run off; too thick, and it'll sit on top of the cookie like frosting, which it shouldn't be. Have some extra powdered sugar on hand to fix too-runny icing. If it's too thick, add no more than a drop of water, like a quarter teaspoon, at a time. I'm not sure what it is about corn syrup, but it definitely creates the right "bite" to the finished icing. It's my understanding that you can substitute glucose syrup 1:1 for corn syrup outside of the US, where corn syrup is not available. I've experimented with swapping in honey or agave syrup, but in my experience it's not the same.
Once you've got the icing to be just pourable (but not runny), I recommend using an ordinary spoon to create the line down the center. Fill up the well of the spoon and, holding the cookie at a 45-degree angle with your non-dominant hand, drop a line of icing over the center of the cookie. You want the spoon to hover just over the surface of the cookie, without touching it.
Black and White Cookies (parve)
- Piping bag fitted with large round tip
For the cookies:
- 2 cups cake or all-purpose flour - 245 g
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- ⅓ cup almond milk - 60 ml
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp almond extract
- Grated zest of ½ lemon
- ½ cup shortening - 115 g
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar - 85 g
- 2 eggs - at room temperature
For the icing:
- 3 cups powdered sugar - sifted – 375 g
- 3 Tbsp hot water – 15 ml
- 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp light corn syrup or glucose - 20 ml
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 Tbsp cocoa powder - 15 g
Set up for mixing the dough:
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets. Prepare a piping bag with a large, round tip and place it in a tall glass.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In another small bowl, mix together the milk, vanilla extract, almond extract, and lemon zest.
- In a third small bowl, crack the eggs and beat well.
Make the batter:
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the shortening and granulated sugar on medium speed until creamy and smooth, 3-4 full minutes.
- Lower the speed to medium-low and pour in the beaten eggs slowly.
- When the eggs are fully incorporated, add in the milk mixture. The batter will appear to curdle; this is okay, it'll soon come back together.
- With the mixer still on medium-low, slowly add in the flour mixture, beating until just combined.
Pipe the cookies:
- Transfer the batter into the piping bag. Pipe the batter in 3" / 8 cm circles, leaving plenty of space between each cookie.
Bake the cookies:
- Bake for 15 minutes, until light golden at the edges and well set.
Make the icings:
- Whisk together the powdered sugar, hot water, corn syrup, and vanilla extract. The icing should be pourable but not runny. Add more water, just a few drops at a time, if it's too thick. If too thin, add powdered sugar about a teaspoon at a time until no longer runny.
Ice the cookies:
- Ice half of the flat side of each cookie, dropping the icing onto the cookie in a straight line down the center using an ordinary spoon.
- When all the cookies are iced on one side, allow them to harden completely.
- Add the cocoa powder to the remaining icing and stir to combine, adding a few drops hot water as needed to maintain pouring consistency. Ice the second half of the cookies in the same manner. Allow to harden completely.