On the corner of most New York City blocks sits a bodega. You duck inside to find a veritable food wonderland: The contents of an entire grocery store crammed into a tiny room with narrow, high shelves. You can buy everything from ice cream to tomato paste to cornstarch. Perched above the cold drinks case are stacks of crackers in every shape and flavor. Boxes of Asian snacks line one wall. Tiers of neatly arranged chocolate bars flank the cash register.
Plastic pails line the outside of the bodegas under awnings. The pails spill over with fresh flowers: roses in neon shades, hydrangeas, and carnations. I come in for a bottle of kombucha or a rushed pack of gum on my way to the subway. Late at night on the way home from a bar, I stop in for odd tequila-fueled cravings like tamari rice crackers, string cheese, and mint chocolate chip ice cream or Wheat Thins, hummus, and Peppermint Patties.
The one bodega food I can’t resist – ever -- is a black and white cookie. Almost every bodega and deli in New York has a basket of plastic-wrapped black and white cookies sitting at the register. I judge the establishment by the quality of their cookie. I consider myself a connoisseur, with my only qualification being that I’ve sampled more than my fair share. And more than an entire family’s fair share. And so on.
A good black and white cookie should have a cakey base. It’s barely a cookie really, and more of a soft sponge cake. The icing should not be overly sweet. It should taste like chocolate and vanilla, not like pure sugar. It shouldn’t be waxy, but it should form a sugary crust as it ages (yes, like a fine wine). It should crackle under your teeth and break off easily in thin, shiny slabs.
I love how iconic these cookies are. Like a yellow cab, or seeing the spire of the Empire State Building pierce the jagged skyline of Manhattan, these are a piece of New York. And in true New York fashion, you can find excellent black and white cookies at high end bakeries (like Joyce Bakeshop in Prospect Heights), at classic institutions like Murray’s Bagels, and at crumbling, hole-in-the-wall places like Donut Pub on 14th Street.
I like how you have to savor a black and white cookie, eating a bite of each side until it disappears.
I readily admit to feeling overly invested in black and white cookies. If you, too, are discerning about your cookies, try this recipe. It’s pretty labor intensive, but absolutely worth the time.
Black and White Cookies
Adapted from the NYT
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
2 1/2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup boiling water
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cream sugar and butter in a large bowl or stand mixer. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the milk, vanilla extract, and lemon extract and mix until well-combined.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a little at a time, mixing well. Using a cookie scoop or large spoon, drop big spoonfuls of dough onto your baking sheets. Leave at least 2 inches between each spoonful as the cookies will spread!
Baking for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges just begin to brown. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack.
To make the frosting, add the confectioner’s sugar to a large bowl. Slowly drizzle in boiling water, stirring as you go, until you get a thick but spreadable texture.
Put half of the sugar mixture in a double boiler. Add the chocolate and corn syrup and cook until the chocolate melts, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat (if the icing stiffens, just warm it up slightly in the microwave until it is spreadable again).
Using a spatula or knife, frost each cookie with half chocolate frosting and half vanilla.