Black and White Cookies

Most Midwesterners are not all that familiar with the black and white cookie, but as the daughter of native New Yorkers, they were a regular part of the cookie rotation at my house growing up. A star of the dessert case at New York delis, black and white cookies are the perfect treat for someone who can’t choose: Do I want a cookie or a cupcake? Chocolate frosting or white? With black and white cookies, you can have it all – two half-moons of both kind of frostings on a cupcakey cookie base.

Though I devoured scores of black and white cookies as a kid, I’d never ventured to try baking them on my own. Armed with my bubbie’s (grandmother’s) recipe, which she had adapted from a cupcake recipe, I decided to find out if I could meet her high cookie standard.

First comes the cookie. I preheated the oven to 375° and topped two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Lugging out my KitchenAid mixer, I blended margarine, vanilla and lemon juice. The resulting bits of mushed butter didn’t look like much in the mixer, but after adding self-rising flour, sugar, milk and an egg, it started coming together nicely. I beat the mixture on medium speed for two minutes and then added more self-rising flour and milk and beat for one more minute. Easy, right?

Jill Lewis/Heavy Table
Jill Lewis/Heavy Table

Almost. It was time to scoop the dough out onto the cookie sheets in ¼-cup portions, but the dough’s extreme stickiness made it difficult to form the cookies neatly. Washing my hands with hot water in between each scoop helped, but I still got bits of dough everywhere – the counter, the floor, my hair. Luckily, it cleans up pretty easily.

While the cookies baked for 15 minutes, I whipped up the two icings. Oil, light corn syrup, vanilla and salt blended together into a large bowl, and I then stirred in unsweetened cocoa. After alternately adding milk and powdered sugar, I had a heaping bowl of delicious chocolate icing.

Jill Lewis/Heavy Table
Jill Lewis/Heavy Table

The white icing was a little trickier because the recipe didn’t give any measurements (thanks, Bubbie!), but I started with one cup of powdered sugar, added a drizzle of corn syrup for sheen and then stirred in hot water a little at a time until the icing was shiny and could coat the back of a spoon.

Jill Lewis/Heavy Table
Jill Lewis/Heavy Table

Once the cookies had cooled, I got to work making plain ol’ cookies into true black and whites. Staring with the white icing, I used a pastry brush to coat half of each cookie. I was disappointed that the golden tone of the cookie was visible through the icing, so I gave each cookie a second coat and achieved the desired opaqueness. The pastry brush was no match for the much-thicker chocolate frosting, so I used a small offset spatula to liberally load the cookies’ opposite (and some say better) halves with the chocolate. Ten minutes later, 10 not-quite-perfect-but-still-beautiful black and white cookies stared up at me from the counter. I thought I had made Bubbie proud.

Jill Lewis/Heavy Table
Jill Lewis/Heavy Table

That is, until 30 minutes later when I realized I had frosted the wrong side of the cookies! Thanks to the self-rising flour, the cookies come out of the oven with a domed center, and traditionally, the cookies are turned over to the flat side and frosted. I knew this, yet I still frosted the domed side of the cookies. Debating whether to start over from scratch, I then decided that my way maximizes the amount of frosting on each cookie due to increased surface area. And since it’s the frosting that makes a black and white cookie what it is, who can argue that more isn’t better?

Kitchen conquest: successful. Try it for yourself.

¼ cup margarine             ¾ cups sugar
½ tsp. vanilla                    6 tbsp. milk
½ tsp. lemon juice           1 egg
2 cups self-rising flour

Blend margarine, vanilla and lemon juice. Add one cup flour, sugar, 3 tablespoons milk and egg.  Stir to blend then beat 2 minutes on medium speed. Add another cup of flour and 3 tablespoons milk and beat one more minute on medium speed.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place ¼ cup of batter on the parchment paper, at least 4 inches apart (they will spread). Bake at 375° for 15-18 minutes or until edges start to brown.

¼ cup oil
2 tbsp. and 2 tsp. light corn syrup
½ tsp. vanilla
pinch salt
½ cup plain unsweetened cocoa
3 ½ tablespoons milk (this can vary)
2 cups sifted powdered sugar

Blend oil, corn syrup, vanilla and salt.  Stir in cocoa.  Alternately add milk and powdered sugar and mix with spatula after each addition.  Add enough milk to make a good consistency.  Makes 1 1/4 cups icing and can keep extra in fridge.

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. corn syrup
Hot water

Take the powdered sugar and drizzle in about a teaspoon of corn syrup.  Add hot water a little at a time until it coats the back of a spoon and is a good consistency to spread on the cookie (make sure it isn’t too watery).

The Half-Moon Cookie

by James Norton

For residents of New York City, the black and white cookie is a familiar friend, a bakery staple, a little piece of gastronomic scenery that helps define the landscape. Visitors and short-time residents of the city can’t help but pick up on it. The cookie has also begun to make itself known nationally, appearing locally at the Highland Park Starbucks.

But behind the scenes in New York, a culinary conflict of “best bagel” proportions is taking place. Upstate residents swear by their version of the cookie, known as the half-moon.

“The half-moon rules and the black and white can suck it,” says an upstate native who now works in the city as an editor for an international newspaper. “The black and white, that knockoff, that bastardization, is sponge cake, always vanilla, dry, crumbly, with tasteless fondant icing. It’s disgusting. It’s inedible.”

“The half-moon cookie: always a chocolate base, moist, cupcake-like,” he adds. “And the frosting’s buttercream, the vanilla light and whipped, the chocolate dense, delicious. On Halloween, they food-dyed the vanilla orange; on Valentine’s Day, pink. If your parents loved you as a child, they’d get you a half-moon birthday cake, which was as big as a pizza.”

Hemstrought’s, a Polish bakery that once had branches in Utica and Lotto’s hometown of Clinton, has a famous recipe for their half-moon cookies, published in 1999 by Saveur magazine. Thanks to the majesty of the Internet’s deep reach, it’s available here for your consideration.


  1. Moe


    “You see, Elaine, the key to eating a black and white cookie is that you wanna get some black and some white in each bite. Nothing mixes better than vanilla and chocolate. And yet still somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the cookie, all our problems would be solved.”

  2. Joanna

    I think your alteration of your Bubbie’s recipe to maximize frosted surface is great. Now how would she feel about butter instead of margarine?

  3. Jill

    I have no idea, Joanna – I’ll have to ask her! She’s never expressed strong feelings to me before about butter vs. margarine, but Bub has an opinion about everything, so I’m sure she’ll have something to say on the subject. :)

  4. Cheesewench

    Black and White cookies? Oh man. I’m a New Yorker and can usually only get them when I go back home to visit. I have yet to find a recipe that can replicate the flavor, but yours gives me hope!

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