Thursday, April 08, 2010

A Great Cookie -- In Black & White

Maybe you had to grow up a New Yorker, but there is something special about the magic of black and white cookies, giant cakey cookies frosted with half chocolate and half vanilla icing.

Growing up, they were an occasional treat that my grandmother would buy me from Ebinger's (I think) bakery in Brooklyn. (This is the bakery that was famed for it's chocolate blackout cake, but that's another post.) These never disappointed, with the alternating pleasures of rich chocolate and sweet vanilla over a cake with great taste and lots of crumbs.

In later years, black and whites stopped being just bakery treats and began to be an ubiquitous prewrapped staple of deli take-out counters, an impulse purchase that tugged on the heartstrings and taste memories of New Yorkers (and others inducted into the canon of black and white cookies by such cultural icons as The Seinfield Show, click here for YouTube clip with Jerry's musing on the pastry).

I had pretty much given up on black and whites, finding them stale and tasteless, the chocolate icing more chemical than cacao and the vanilla frosting only tasting of sugar when I found Molly O'Neill's recipe in her New York Cookbook. It was a revelation. The cake was good, not bland, with a lilt of lemon to it, the vanilla frosting fragrant, the chocolate frosting actually chocolaty. It became my standard and if you crave black and white cookies, it should become your standard, too.
O'Neill's recipe is available here, in a New York Times article from 2001. It is based on a recipe from the famed Zabar's emporium. As O'Neill wrote in her cookbook: "Zabar's versions are to deli black and white cookies what pate is to chopped liver." (Although to be honest, a good chopped liver is nothing to sneer at.)

Want the original from Zabar's? You can order them here.

Some notes: Be prepared to ice the cooled cakes quickly, or the frosting will become harder to spread. Reheat gently to soften. I keep the frostings in gently simmering jury-rigged double boilers while I work with them. The recipe makes 2 dozen cookies, but I often make them smaller than the traditional oversized size for parties. The "mini" black and whites are always a buffet pleaser. Be sure to use butter to grease your baking sheets, oil or oil spray will allow the batter to run too much.

Here's another version from the wonderful Smitten Kitchen, also based on Zabar's cookies. I'd love to know if anyone has a different black and white cookie recipe out there they could recommend. Leave a comment and a link and I'll check it out.
About the photo: Black and white cookies in (what else) black and white.


Erika Kerekes said...

I love black & white cookies - and every time I take my kids back to New York to visit Grandma, that's the dessert they choose at the diner. Can't wait to try making them myself! Thanks for this walk down memory lane!

FJKramer said...

Erika, I know my kids (now grown) still have a black&white cookie instinct. Let me know how yours turn out!

Unknown said...

OOOOOoooooo the memories; and you are right, once they hit the BIG TIME they no longer had the same 'tam'. And the Black Out Cake major yum. Do you remember the "spanish nut cake"

FJKramer said...

AWCS - I haven't tackled the blackout cake yet, but will someday (probably for my chocolate enthused book group). O'Neill has a good recipe for that in the New York cookbook.

Spanish Nut Cake -- don't think I know that one, but I'll keep an eye out.

Unknown said...

the nut cake was made in a sheet-two very dense layers about1" thick each with, if I remember correctly, an apricot jam type layer between. no topping. this was my all time fav. i am not sure about the name, that is what my folks called it.probably also from ebingers.