Saturday, March 8, 2014

Samantha's Black and White Cookies

Whatever name you want to call them, these cookies are delicious!

The first time I'd ever heard of Black and White cookies was at my art teacher's house. From fifth grade through high school, I took private art lessons with a local painter and an ever changing constellation of four or so other kids where I learned how to paint and draw like a professional, or as close to one as I was ever going to get without going to art school. It's a hobby I've almost totally abandoned since graduating from high school between just not having time or the place to practice it, and I have to admit, while my dreams of being a concept artist for Disney are long gone, I do miss it a lot sometimes.

I don't remember how it came up, but one day, my teacher told us all about her favorite kind of cookie, which you could only get at a certain bakery in New York. Her husband would always try to pick one or two up for her when he went into the city, and she always looked forward to finally being able to have one after a long dry spell.

I didn't really understand what was so special about what was basically a sugar cookie with frosting on it until I tried one for myself, and I have to admit, I was hooked. It might seem a little silly that having two kinds of frosting on a nice, cakey cookie could really make that much of a difference, but they really are tasty and I always think of my teacher when I see them. When this recipe popped up on my Tumblr dashboard, I knew I had to give it a try for myself!

While I know my personal history with the black and white cookie, I knew nothing of their origins, and was certainly curious to figure out what those were. After all, it would determine which doll I'd pick to host the post, and what direction I wanted to go with it in terms of telling all of you guys about their history.

The title and the pictures have definitely spoiled it, but I was actually kind of surprised to discover that this is a treat that goes back to the early twentieth century. It always seemed like something that would have been a lot more modern to me! I think it's because of the colors - it looks much more Art Deco than practically Victorian!

I was also surprised to discover that there isn't that much people seem to be able to agree on when it comes to their origins, or what a "true" black and white cookie should be and taste like, or even what you should call it.

They're not even mentioned in The American Century Cookbook, which was super disappointing to discover! It has so much great history I was hoping I'd get lucky and find something extra in here.

What can be agreed on is that they first appeared in Hemstrought’s Bakery in Utica, New York in the early 1900's, and were originally called half moons. These cookies are supposed to have a nice, cakey texture to them, something that some people get very grumpy about prepackaged black and white cookies not having in other parts of the country. I can't say I remember any prepackaged black and white cookies I've ever had or seen other people eating being hard as rocks, but I'm not really one to judge about people's intense feelings regarding their desserts, even if I was kind of surprised to hear that people can get this worked up over a cookie! I'm personally sort of not picky when it comes to cookies. While I do have a couple rules about what I will and won't eat (no nuts in my chocolate chips, for example), for the most part I'm happy to try out anything and devour it with enthusiasm, even if I might prefer a cookie I ate at this bakery over that one. Maybe I'm just easy to please.

Although the original bakery has closed, the recipe is apparently still being used by those who used to work for Hemstrought's, and since the cookie's become so popular in New York and elsewhere, there are several different versions available for anyone interested in trying them out.

They're also apparently known as a half and half cookie, or an Amerikaner, and apparently President Obama recently christened them unity cookies at a deli in Fort Lauderdale. You're more likely to hear them called black and whites in New York City though, while the half moon is the more common name in upstate New York and New England. They're definitely yummy to eat wherever you find them, or whatever they're called, so I was really excited to get started working on making some of my own!

The recipe starts off simply enough, with the basic cookie instructions of putting your dry ingredients together and aside while you cream the butter and sugar together.

Next add in the egg, and then alternate adding your dry ingredients and buttermilk until you've got a nice thick - but still wet! - cookie dough.

Now, I assume you could use melon ballers or just spoons to scoop out relatively even portions of the dough, but I (foolishly) decided to go the ambitious route and use a makeshift piping bag as the recipe suggested you do. I, personally, would not recommend this at all. The dough is really thick and sticky at this point, and it was difficult to get it all to come out of the bag. I feel like I ended up wasting at least three or so cookie's worth, and since mine ended up being on the big side anyway, it definitely affected the number of cookies I was ultimately able to make.

The other problem that came along with this method was that the cookies ended up having pretty high centers, which meant they really weren't flat when they finished cooking.

See what I mean?

This isn't really a bad thing because it makes sure that every cookie is super cakey and delicious, and I'm not sure if using a spoon or a scoop would have solved this issue, but it still made frosting them a bit of a challenge.

You need to let them sit for a while so the heat doesn't mess up the frosting when you start putting it on, and whipping up the frosting itself was pretty easy. It's also definitely something you can tweak and play around with if you're not entirely satisfied by what the recipe has to offer. I know I left out the espresso powder, mostly because I'm actually not a huge fan of "mocha", or really coffee flavored anything. I think that's what led to my chocolate frosting being a little browner than the cookies pictured in the recipe.

The problem I encountered was mostly due to the fact that when you flip the cookies over to frost the nice smooth side, getting them to balance so the frosting wouldn't run and drip down the sides was a little bit of a pain.

I'd definitely recommend frosting all of the cookies with one icing, letting them sit for a good long while to harden the frosting up, and then tackle the other side. I only frosted one cookie with the chocolate initially to make sure the consistency was right.

Once they sat for a while, I frosted the other side, and they were basically ready to go!

So, what did we think?

I've already said that I can be kind of unpicky when it comes to what cookies I'm happy to gobble up - and gobble I do, there are currently some chocolate chip cookies in a tupperware container that are calling my name and I'm trying desperately to resist their siren song - but don't let my enthusiasm for cookies in general make you doubt what I'm about to say next: these were really, really good! They actually might be one of my favorite new cookie recipes I've tried since starting this blog, right up there with the spice cakes I made forever ago (although I think those are still the overall winners, they were so tasty!). The cookie itself is really cakey and soft, with enough flavor that it's not bad to eat on its own, but with the frosting tastes absolutely incredible. These cookies are kind of like Oreos in that there's no one "correct" way of eating them, but I preferred going right down the middle and getting both flavors at the same time.

While the recipe can be a little time consuming because of how long it takes to frost them and let everything set, it's definitely an easy one and would be a fun way to bring something a little different to a party or get together. I remember my friend Paige once had a cookie party at her house, and I wish I'd known about this recipe back then! Although admittedly, instead I brought my grandmother's cookie brittle, which is basically the most addictive, delicious substance known to man, so I think it turned out alright. I'd love to feature that recipe on the blog, but it's a dangerous thing to keep in the house.

Anyway, these were a real treat to make and eat, and I think I'll definitely be making them again. It's fun to have something a little different to turn to when you're looking for something tasty to give to someone, and I think we've found a keeper.
Now if you'll excuse me, Sam and I have some cookies that are demanding to be devoured in a Cookie Monster like fashion, which I'm sure Grandmary wouldn't approve of at all.

I wish I was kidding. Really, I do.


  1. Oh my gosh! Those look so good. I don't have any cookies atm but man I'm going to have to get into my fudge stash now!

    1. Fudge sounds amazing right now, I hope it was tasty. c:

  2. I'm always on the hunt for a good cookie. I LOVE cookies!! I loved reading about the history of the black and white...who knew?! I will have to give this recipe a whirl one of these days.

    1. I definitely recommend it! It was super tasty, I've got a hankering to make some more. Let me know how they turn out if you give them a shot! :D