Black & White Cookies

In the early days of Words to Eat By, I blogged about Kasha Varnishkes as my Madeleines, the food that brings long-forgotten memories rushing back. But see, that’s silly. Everyone knows that Proust was talking about a cookie. And if Proust were Jewish*, growing up in or around New York City in the 70s, his Madeleine would be a Black & White Cookie.

Cakey, ever so slightly lemony, with that gooey-but-not-sloppy bicolor icing, and as big as saucer, it is the cookie of my childhood. Back then, we’d go to Lydig Avenue in the Bronx regularly—at the time it was a Jewish neighborhood, with kosher butchers and bakers and much lower prices than my parents could find in Westchester, where we lived. A Black & White was almost always part of the trip. I was a major chocoholic already, and I was convinced that vanilla wasn’t actually a flavor—it was more an absence of flavor—so I’d scorn the white part and chow down on the black. Embarrassing as it is to admit now, I vividly remember sitting in the way-back of the station wagon crying when white dominated my cookie, as happened from time to time. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t, you know, a toddler then.

These days I favor the white; it’s more purely sweet and that makes me happy now. Don’t get me wrong—I still dig the black—but I always eat the white half first. And I’m proud to announce that Harry has inherited my devotion to the Black & White. While I find it impossible to walk down Second Avenue without stopping in at Moishe’s bakery (in my expert opinion, theirs are the best to be found in New York), Harry finds it impossible to walk past any bodega, deli, or bakery without announcing he must have a Black & White. That’s my boy. His preferred method of eating is to scrape off all the icing, whichever color his little fingers hit first, and maybe take a bite of the cookie part. The idea of just putting the thing in his mouth and chowing down is apparently too advanced for him.

So the other day, when he told me yet again that he needed a Black & White, I ducked and feinted, and suggested we bake our own instead. He agreed, happily.

This recipe is from a wonderful cookbook that came out quite a few years ago, when I was still working in publishing: Butter Sugar Flour Eggs: Whimsical Irresistible Desserts by Gale Gand, Rick Tramonto, and Julia Moskin. It’s the closest thing I’ve found to an authentic result—though they still come out a little too brittle, not quite cakey enough, for my taste.

So how do you eat your Black & Whites? Do you have a recipe you trust? I’d love to try it! Anne at Chef on Call already told me about Martha Stewart’s version, which are on the agenda. Other candidates are more than welcome.

*Yes, I know. Some would say that Proust was Jewish.

Black & White Cookies
From Butter Sugar Flour Eggs: Whimsical Irresistible Desserts
Makes 12 large or 22 medium cookies

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
½ cup milk [I use 1%]
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1¼ cups cake flour
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

4 cups confectioners’ sugar
6 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cocoa powder [I use King Arthur Flour’s Double Dutch Dark]

Heat oven to 350. Line 2 baking sheets with wax or parchment paper [I use Silpat Baking Mats]

Cream the butter in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer) until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs, milk, and extracts and mix to combine. Combine the flours, baking powder, and salt and mix well. Add the dry ingredients to the sugar-egg mixture and mix to blend.

Using an ice-cream scoop, scoop the dough onto the pans [I wanted smaller cookies, so I used the small Oxo Good Grips Cookie Scoop]. With the back of a spatula [or an offset one], press and spread each cookie into a circle about 5 inches in diameter and 5/8 inch thick. [With the smaller scoop, you’ll be closer to 3 inches. Be careful not to spread the dough too thin—a big part of the Black & White’s appeal is the cakey cookie. It should not get crisp.]

Bake for about 20 minutes [12-14 with the smaller scoop], until golden. Let cool on wire racks.

Stir the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla together until smooth. Transfer half of the icing to another bowl and stir in the cocoa until smooth.

Turn the cooled cookies over, so that the flat bottoms face up. Spread white icing on half of each flat surface, then spread the other halves with chocolate icing. Let set at room temperature for 30 minutes.

[Once frosted, these don’t hold terribly well, unless you don’t object to the icing getting kinda crusty—and that’s inside a Rubbermaid container. You could wrap each one individually in plastic wrap, but that’s a pain and would likely take off half the icing when you unwrap it. Better to just eat them all the day you bake them.]