Black and White and Baked All Over
“If we can’t look to the cookie, where can we look?”
The Black and White Cookie, Recipe and Musings
I’ve had an eclectic mix of professions throughout my life: barista, receptionist, bookstore clerk, adjunct philosophy professor, special education paraprofessional, and now a technical writer and editor, just to name a few. But I also bake. A lot.
It started out as a hobby that spiraled out of control a few years ago, turning a once-casual baker into a veritable confectionary force to be reckoned with: cakes, cookies, cupcakes (dear god, how I loathe these miniature desserts), cheesecakes, tarts, pies, brownies, tortes, bundts, cake rolls, curds, scones, Belgian waffles, caramels, dessert sauces, crème brûlée, ice cream, candies, macaroons, macarons, etc.. You name it, I’ll make it. Birthdays, holidays, special occasions, my fiancé’s weekly game nights, viewing parties for Game of Thrones, the random ‘just because’ day of the week – I can find just about any reason to create something in the kitchen because I, like my mother, and her mother before her, have a strange desire to feed people. More than those people probably want to be fed. And god help you if you run out of food, no matter how few people you’re entertaining – somewhere an Italian mother sheds a tear whenever a plate is cleared with nothing left in sight to replenish it with. Whether we’re expecting 5, 15, or 50 guests, there is only one quantity of food I have been programmed to make: Obscene.
My desire to feed friends and family is rivaled only by the discovery or creation of a brand new recipe, a dish I’ve never made before, because I get stuck in ruts where people tend to only order the same few foods from me; this is why I, as stated above, hate cupcakes. If you have ever wanted to vehemently hate a food you used to, on occasion, enjoy, make it more times than you can stand, and then make it some more. Make it in place of dinners for your partner, because who has time to make both? Inhale powdered sugar every other night while creating a frosting you can finally deem good enough. It’s akin to the Thanksgiving Day phenomenon: My Mother would spend days preparing the meal, waking up at dawn the day of to begin the brunt of the feast. Come dinnertime she’d heap piles of food onto our plates, watching our ravenous attacks, but barely touch her own. I did not piece it together until I became useful enough in the kitchen to aid her – nothing is more unappealing than a dish that you have had to test taste repeatedly and breathe in for hours. Forget the turkey, hand me a glass of champagne and allow my stomach to regain its composure – midnight is the time for cooks to enjoy the fruits of their labors, when enough time has passed between all of the prep, the worry, and the stress over presenting the Perfect Meal for those you love, and your stomach has finally, mercifully, realized just how empty it is.
I first encountered the infamous ‘Black and White Cookie’ from the Seinfeld episode, The Dinner Party (1994). Seinfeld turned a regular, albeit enormous, cookie into an iconic dessert along with babka (“Cinnamon takes a backseat to no babka!”), marble rye, the Big Salad, Jujyfruits, Snickers (“How do you eat it? With your hands?”), Junior Mints, mutton, calzones, muffin tops, “fat free” frozen yogurt, Twix, fusilli pasta, risotto, Bosco chocolate syrup, and Drake’s coffee cake, just to name a few. I would not have one until a few years later when I was in a bakery with my Mom. With the coveted cookie in hand, I proceeded to run through Jerry’s idealist monologue about the egalitarian cookie. (She was used to this behavior – I used to trail her in department stores singing “You are the Wind Beneath my Wings”.) I did not learn from Jerry’s mistake, though, and tried to eat it all in one sitting. The Black and White Cookie, that glazed beacon of hope in an otherwise dreary world, is simply too much cookie for one snacking session.
Black and white cookies are a soft vanilla cake-like cookie, similar in taste to shortbread; one half is glazed with vanilla, the other, chocolate. Dubbed by Barack Obama in 2008 as “Unity cookies”, the black and white cookie also goes by the name “half-and-half”, and simply “Amerikaner” (American) in Germany, but is, at its heart, a New York dessert. Eat them symmetrically, like Jerry, or one flavor at time, but trust in the black and white.
“The thing about eating the Black and White cookie, Elaine, is you want to get some black and some white in each bite. Nothing mixes better than vanilla and chocolate, and yet, somehow, racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the cookie, all our problems would be solved.”
No fancy equipment is needed to make these generous rounds of equality, but you will need large cookie sheets, parchment paper, wax paper, cooling racks, an electric mixer, mixing bowls, measuring cups/spoons, a medium saucepan, whisk, a wide spatula, and a small offset spatula.
Black and White Cookies
(yields about two dozen rather large cookies)
4 cups cake flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract (or use ½ teaspoon vanilla extract and ¼ teaspoon lemon extract, if feeling extra fancy)
1 cup milk (I usually have 1% on hand)
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
¼ cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup water
5 cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Milk (as needed, individually based on how you prefer the consistency of the glaze, but 1-3 teaspoons should do the trick)
For the cookies:
Preheat your oven to 375 °F and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; whisk to combine. Set the bowl of dry ingredients aside.
On medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Gradually add in the sugar, increasing mixing speed to medium-high; beat until light and fluffy and scrape down the sides of the bowl. On medium speed, add the eggs and vanilla and lemon extracts (if using) until combined. On low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and the milk until just combined. The flour mixture should be added in four additions, the milk in three – begin and end with the flour mixture.
Using a ¼ measuring cup and a spoon, place six ¼ cup mounts of dough two inches (or more) apart on your baking sheets. Don’t panic! The dough is supposed to be thin – think the consistency of a thick cake batter rather than traditional cookie dough. With slightly moistened fingers, press each mound of dough into a disk about 2 ½ inches wide and ¾″ thick. Bake between sixteen and twenty minutes, or until the centers of the cookies are firm and the edges are only just beginning to brown. Rotate the pans halfway through the baking time for a more evenly cooked result.
Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for about two minutes. Use a wide spatula to transfer them to a wire rack, and repeat the process for the remainder of the dough. Allow the cookies to cool completely prior to icing so that the glaze does not run.
For the glaze:
Melt the chocolate in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove the bowl from heat and set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the corn syrup and water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in the powdered sugar and vanilla until combined.
Transfer ¾ cup of the vanilla icing to the bowl with the melted chocolate; stir to combine. If the chocolate glaze is too thick, whisk in a teaspoon of milk at a time until it reaches a consistency similar to the vanilla glaze.
Cover your wire racks with wax paper and place the cookies on top. Using a small offset spatula, spread about two tablespoons of the vanilla icing on half of the bottom (flat side) of each cookie. Run the spatula around the edge of the cookie to remove any excess icing. Allow the icing to harden slightly for about 15 minutes. Using the same method, spread the chocolate icing over the other half of each cookie. Allow the glaze to set for at least 1 hour prior to serving.
Note: If the chocolate glaze loses its sheen or hardens while decorating, just add more milk – this will not affect how the glaze sets.
These black and white cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Make sure to layer them between sheets of parchment paper so that they glaze does not run/stick to the other cookies.
Source: Base recipe from Baking Illustrated and adapted accordingly.