Obsession Thursday: the iconic NYC black+white cookie

Thanks to elkie465 for the picture of what looks to have been a delicious specimen.
Thanks to elkie456 for the picture of what looks to have been a delicious specimen.

My sister looked at me like I was nuts for being excited to find a black+white cookie at Max’s Deli in Highland Park, Il. “It’s just a sugar cookie,” she said. “Why are you so excited?”

I used to think the same thing. A big cookie, iced half in black and half in white. What is all the fuss about?

People, it is not what you think. The black+white cookie is not just a New York City specialty, it’s magical.

First of all, when authentically made, that cookie is not a sugar cookie. Ha! It’s a beautifully firm-yet-soft lemony sponge. It’s more like cake than cookie, but it’s firm enough to hold itself together. It’s light but satisfying, sweet but not overly so. Then there’s the icing. It’s crisp and snaps when you break the cookie. It’s, I’ve since learned, made with water, not milk or butter or cream. The texture of that thick layer of brittle icing on top of that soft, tart cookie is what makes this a magical experience.

Who invented this cookie is not certain. This article from the New York Times, circa Seinfeld in first run (when Jerry urged us all to “Look to the cookie” when dealing with the complex issue of race) suggests that it’s more than 100 years old. (That same article offers a recipe. You’re welcome.)

My first b+w was purchased at an unremarkable Manhattan bodega, wrapped in plastic wrap. I bought two, just because one never knows if this will be the best thing ever. Besides, how bad could any cookie be?

I opened it on a bus to upstate NY and took a bite and was instantly mad at myself for not buying a dozen. They were wonderful.

Our own Kate Atherley and her husband, Norman, love these things too, so when I found black+white cookies at the kosher Sobey’s (a big Ontario grocery chain) in Thornhill two nights ago, I almost drove a box directly to them. But, as we all learned the next day upon delivery, they’re…okay. There’s a bit of a snap, and a hint of the lemon, but they’re not quite right. Flip over the box, and the reason was revealed: Made in New Jersey. 

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7 thoughts on “Obsession Thursday: the iconic NYC black+white cookie

  1. Connie

    You know, these cookies are called “Amerikaner” (americans) in Germany – and are a firm favourite at children’s birthday parties. You can get them in white, black or black and white…

  2. Elspeth

    I was introduced to them a “half moon” cookies at Bennison’s Bakery in Evanston, Illinois. They were only made on Tuesdays 35 years ago, now they try to make them every day. Every time I make it back to Chicago, I have to make a pilgrimage.

  3. Nancy D

    Hey! I’m from jersey 😉 And I love those cookies. Maybe the difference was they were not from a good bakery? And now I’m craving one and I live in Nevada now!

  4. Ana

    I’ve had these in Germany but not with lemon in the sponge. The German ones are, sad to say, nothing special – yours sounds much more toothsome.

  5. Cindy C

    White and chocolate frosting on a vanilla or chocolate cookie bottom. I’m from the Syracuse, NY area and we call them Half Moons. My favorite!

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