Baking with Chickens
Better Black and White Cookies
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
I’m going to say something controversial. I don’t like Black and White Cookies. Pioneer Woman called this the “cookie created by indecisive people for indecisive people.”
Popularized and ubiquitous in New York City and upstate New York where these cookies are called Half Moons, the texture is more like a cake top than a cookie. It’s a cakey cookie flavored with vanilla, almond, and lemon extracts, and covered in a thick chocolate and vanilla fondant style icing. The cookie bottom is actually the cookie top frosted in it’s iconic black and white icing, and the cookie tops are the bottom.
Every time I’ve been seduced by one of these cookies I’ve been underwhelmed. There are DIE HARD fans of this cookie who will fight me that these cookies are the GOAT (greatest of all time). I disagree. Yet here I am, making Black and White Cookies on a quest to understand what it is I don’t like about this imposter cookie and how to make it better for my taste.
I started with the NYT Cooking recipe for Perfect Black and White Cookies by Melissa Clark as my base recipe for reference and started adjusting from there. Here’s what I learned after making her recipe, testing my recipe changes, and researching countless others:
Sour cream is a key ingredient to getting that soft, fluffy texture because it reacts with the baking soda. It also gives the cookie a slightly tangy flavor.
It has one too many strong flavors competing with each other - vanilla, chocolate, lemon, and almond. All of these items go well with each other but when it’s all four together it’s too much for me, especially when using extract. The artificial extract flavor is what turns me off.
Using almond flour for the nuttiness and almond flavor was much better than the artificial taste from almond extract.
Using finely ground roasted almonds is even better for flavor and texture. It gave the cakey-cookie a heartier texture and chew that makes it feel less like cake.
The cookie is too sweet and sugary. Less sugar and more salt to balance it out.
Hot water in the icing made for flat, sad icing. Using milk as the liquid made a richer, creamier icing (see comparison photo below).
Corn syrup is gross.
People are very passionate about their love for Black and White Cookies!
About this Black and White Cookie Recipe
After making batch after batch, I finally figured it out. It’s not the cookie I don’t like, it’s the quality and balance of ingredients. So here’s what I did to make my version of Better Black and White Cookies:
Omit almond extract. Replace with ground almonds or almond flour for nuttiness.
Use vanilla bean pod instead of vanilla extract.
Reduce sugar and add an extra pinch of salt in the cookie dough recipe.
Swap boiling water for heated milk of choice (any creamy milk will work, I used oat milk).
Substitute natural agave for artificial corn syrup.
I personally prefer dark chocolate, so I used Special Dark Cocoa instead of Dutch Cocoa.
The result is a cookie that has a more cookie-like texture from the ground almonds. The cookie base has a better salty and sweet balance from the extra pinch of salt and reduced sugar. By using whole ingredients (ground almonds, vanilla bean, and lemon zest), the almond and lemon flavors complement each other better and are less jarring together. For the icing, there’s a creaminess that was missing from the NYT Cooking recipe. I love the specks of real vanilla bean, less sweet dark chocolate, and how the agave gave the icing that fondant chewiness and shine without the sickly sweet artificial flavor.
THIS is a cookie I can be excited about! Yes, it has fancier ingredients that requires extra effort to make but a damn good cookie is WORTH IT. Whether you love or hate Black and White Cookie, please make this recipe and tell me what you think. Did I nail it? Did I change your mind? Or did I totally fuck up your favorite cookie and you’re sending me glitter bombs in the mail as retribution?
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Get The Recipe
Better Black & White Cookies
My take on a classic black and white cookie with better ingredients -- vanilla beans, ground almonds, lemon zest, dark chocolate and sour cream -- to create a better tasting, less sweet, more balanced, and naturally flavored cookie without extracts or corn syrup. Adapted from NYT Cooking
Time to Prepare: 45-50 minutes
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour or finely ground roasted almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon, plus extra pinch fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup sour cream or whole-milk yogurt
1/3 cup whole milk (or your choice of full-fat milk)
1 large vanilla bean pod, or 2 small vanilla bean pods (save the pods after scraping out the paste)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Optional: sprinkles for sprinkle butts, inspired by Nosh With Tash!*
Vanilla bean pods (scraped from cookie dough)
1/2 cup milk of choice, heated
2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon agave syrup
Pinch of fine sea salt
2 1/2 ounces/70 grams of unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together 1½ cups all purpose flour, ½ cup almond flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon plus an extra pinch of fine sea salt. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl combine the 1/3 cup sour cream, 1/3 cup milk, vanilla bean paste from the vanilla pods (save the pods after scraping out the paste), and 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest. Set aside.
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, cream the 1 stick butter and 1/2 cup sugar until fluffy. Add the two eggs one at a time until combined.
5. On low speed, add the dry flour mixture and wet sour cream mixture alternating 1/3 at a time to the stand mixer bowl and mix until just combined. Don’t overmix. It will be like a thick, runny cake batter.
6. Using a cookie scoop (or ice cream scoop), scoop out the batter into rounds onto a silicone mat or parchment paper lined baking sheet at least 2 inches apart. They will spread. No chilling necessary.
*OPTIONAL SPRINKLE BUTT: Scatter sprinkles on top of the cookie batter before baking. The top of the cookies will become the cookie-bottom because we’ll frost the bottom of the cookies.
7. Bake for 12-15 minutes, turning the pan halfway through baking to bake evenly, until the edges are a light golden brown. Don’t overbake or the cakey cookies will dry out.
8. Cool on baking sheets for 15 minutes, then transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.
9. While the cookies cool, make the icing. In a small pot on the stove, heat the ½ cup milk with scraped vanilla pods. Turn the heat to low to continue simmering and keep warm for the vanilla to infuse into the milk. Don't over boil the milk, keep it just warm-hot.
10. In a large bowl, whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, 5-6 tablespoons of hot infused vanilla milk, 1 tablespoon agave syrup, and pinch of salt. Continue to whisk and add more hot milk as needed until you have a thick yet spreadable frosting that's like the texture of runny hot fudge. You'll have milk leftover, save for the chocolate icing.
11. Flip the cookies over and frost half of the bottom of the cookie with vanilla icing. Place on a wire rack to set. You’ll have leftover vanilla icing, save it for the chocolate icing.
12. In a double boiler simmering on low heat, melt chopped unsweetened chocolate until runny. Pour the leftover vanilla icing, 2½ tablespoons unsweetened dark cocoa powder, and an extra pinch of salt into the pot with the melted chocolate. Whisk together until smooth. Add hot milk to thin out the icing until smooth and runny yet spreadable. Break up any powdered sugar lumps. (If you run out of milk, hot water or coconut oil can also help thin out the chocolate)
13. Spread the warm chocolate icing on the other bare half of the cookie using a spatula. If the chocolate starts to cool and get stiff, set it back on top of the double boiler to melt and soften. Let the icing set for at least 1-2 hours before serving.
14. Position your cookie with the center icing line in front of your mouth. Take a big bite with equal parts vanilla, chocolate and cookie.
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