Either way, they definitely have a moment.
2022 could be the year of the black and white cookie. While this beloved New York bakery has been around for over 100 years, it suddenly seems like black and white is everywhere. Let’s “look in the cookie” and look at the events of the year so far.
First, in early February, ice cream giant Häagen-Dazs announced the launch of Collection of urban sweets, a line of ice cream flavors and eateries inspired by the city’s iconic street food. Imagine a crunchy churro or ice cream flavored soft pretzel and you’ll get the idea. But the fragrance in the City Sweets collection that seemed to raise the most eyebrows there was Black and White Cookie ice cream, in which a vanilla ice cream base was mixed with ripples of chocolate icing and soft cookie pieces. Initially released only in Häagen-Dazs stores, the collection is now available in grocery stores across the country for your pleasure or disapproval.
Also in February, to celebrate the premiere of the 4th season of the popular (and very Jewish) Amazon Prime show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, New York’s own Plaza Hotel introduced a special afternoon tea menu at its acclaimed Palm Court restaurant. Midge Menu Afternoon tea-style treats inspired by some of the dishes featured in the show are included, including a pastrami tea sandwich, beetroot stuffed egg, and a special French pasta black and white version of the cookie.
If you don’t remember where Plaza got the inspiration for this menu, you can rewatch Season 2, Episode 8 of the show when Midge takes her pregnant Gentile friend Imogen to a Jewish deli. When Imogen panics over unfamiliar items on the menu, Midge orders what is arguably the best Jewish deli of all time: “hot pastrami Reuben on rye bread, pot chicken, potato knish, matzah ball soup, Danish cheese, lime ricky and a couple of blacks and whites for dessert. Alas, while Jewish delicacies are timeless, the Plaza only offered the Midge menu until March 13 this year.
Fast forward to April 2022. More than 20 years after Seinfeld went off the air, Food trucks Seinfeld started touring the country. Created to advertise TV stations airing reruns of Seinfeld, the food trucks handed out snacks that hilariously appeared on episodes of the legendary ’90s sitcom, including Junior mints, Drake’s coffee cake, and, of course, Jerry’s favorite cookie. black and white. (Apparently no soups, big salads, or babka.) After launching on April 22 in New York, the truck also made stops in Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco, where fans lined up for free snacks and photo shoots.
You probably remember why the Seinfeld restaurant van included black-and-white cookies on its rather short menu. This is a tribute to an episode from Season 5 of The Dinner Party. In this episode, Jerry and Elaine stop at a bakery to get a chocolate gran and bring it to a dinner party. (It’s hard to overestimate how much Seinfeld has done to raise the profile of Jewish pastry.) While waiting to exchange the “smaller” cinnamon dough they got—because of the presence of hair—Jerry chews on black and white biscuits and wax philosophy: “You see, Elaine, the key to eating black and white cookies is that you want to get a little black and a little white in every bite…but somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people only looked at cookies, all our problems would be solved!”
One of the Seinfeld super-fans who braved the cold drizzle and high winds in Chicago to stand in the long line for the Seinfeld food truck on May 1st was Steven Coppola. His goal: to try his first black and white cookie. “I don’t even know if I’ve had it before, but I love Seinfeld and I know it’s a big deal on the show. So I figured I should get a black and white cookie while I’m here,” Coppola explained. When asked what he thought the cookies would taste like, Coppola replied, “I have no idea. I hope it’s tasty, but I think it will be. Mixing chocolate and vanilla can’t go wrong.”
Chocolate and vanilla together – although they are not actually mixed, as we will discuss later – are actually the hallmark of black and white cookies. Known in some circles as the crescent moon cookie. origin of black and white cookies a little hazy. The Glaser Bakery on the Upper East Side, founded by Bavarian immigrants, claimed to have invented the black and white cookie. (Unfortunately, Glaser’s closed in 2018, after 116 years.) Another contender for the title – although it uses the crescent moon moniker – Hemstraw Bakery in Utica, New York. The Hemstraw version seems like a very different confection; First, chocolate chip cookies.
Whatever story you may believe, it seems clear that black and white was not Jewish food in the first place. Over time, however, these cookies became strongly associated with Jewish bakeries in and around New York City. As Melissa Clark writes in 100 most Jewish dishes“Black and white images have been an integral part of New York City’s very enduring Jewish cookie scene for a century.” In particular, the connection to New York is undeniable. Bake from scratch The May/June 2022 issue of the magazine named the black-and-white cookie as New York State’s signature dessert, like Florida’s key lime pie or Georgia’s pecan pie.
Not only is the origin of black and white cookies controversial, but what makes them good black and white is also hotly debated. Beth Korman Lee, author of the book Basic Jewish Baking Cookbook, notes that “as with most iconic products, there are strong opinions about what makes the ‘perfect’ black and white cookie. Does the texture look like a cake? Double glaze? A touch of lemon or almond? Or is it the memories associated with each bite?”
To make matters worse, the black and white ones aren’t actually even cookies. Technically they are cakes. Indeed, the method used to make the dessert is much closer to how you make cake batter than cookie dough, and the texture of the final product is soft and cake-like with fine crumbs. So calling it a cookie is just a lie?
With all this debate and controversy surrounding the black and white cookie, should we still consider it an edible symbol of racial harmony, as Jerry Seinfeld argued? Even President Obama once referred to a black-and-white cookie as a “unity cookie” during the 2008 South Florida campaign (South Florida is New York’s sixth borough, of course).
Lee explains that when she examined her book“It was widely believed that the black and white cookie was an important pastry in Jewish culinary traditions. However, the origin of the cookie, the list of ingredients, and the visual representation of American racial “oneness” may leave room for controversy and debate.” In fact, the argument that a black and white cookie represents any kind of unity is more than erroneous. Recording in tablet, African-American Orthodox rabbi MaNishtana (pseudonym) notes that the black and white parts of the cookie remain forever separated. “These are not racial harmony cookies. These are Jim Crow cookies,” says Manishtana. Ouch.
But ultimately, a black and white cookie – yes, we stick with “cookie” – doesn’t have to be a symbol or metaphor to justify its popularity. B/W is a dessert, and very tasty. According to Lee, “The black-and-white cookie combines all the intricacies of the perfect treat — a nostalgic vibe, a cookie that’s also a mini-cake, and two types of icing to create the perfect two-flavor bites.” Indeed, even Manishtana confesses that she loves the taste of biscuits. Thanks to Jerry Seinfeld, Mrs. Meisel, and Haagen-Das, the black-and-white cookie transcends its Jewish and New York past and reaches a new, appreciative audience. And it only took 120 years!
Make black and white cookies according to my recipe here.