Are black and white cookies the next Jewish food to go mainstream?
Either way, they’re definitely having a moment.
2022 could turn out to be the year of the black and white cookie. While this beloved New York bakery has been around for over 100 years, suddenly black and white seems to be everywhere. Let’s take a look at the cookie and review the events of the year so far.
First, in early February, ice cream giant Häagen-Dazs announced the launch of the City Sweets Collection, a line of ice cream flavors and snacks inspired by the city’s iconic street foods. Imagine a crispy churro or a soft pretzel reinvented in ice cream flavor and you get the idea. But the flavor from the City Sweets collection that seemed to raise the most eyebrows was Black and White Cookie Ice Cream, which blended a vanilla ice cream base with ripples of fudge chocolate frosting and chewy cookie bits and soft. Originally released only in Häagen-Dazs stores, the collection is now available in grocery stores nationwide for your enjoyment – or disapproval.
Also in February, to celebrate the Season 4 premiere of the popular (and very Jewish) Amazon Prime show “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the Plaza Hotel in New York City presented a special afternoon tea menu in his famous Palm Court restaurant. The Midge menu included afternoon tea-style treats inspired by some of the foods featured on the show, including a pastrami tea sandwich, a beet infused deviled egg, and a French special dish. macarons version of a black and white cookie.
In case you can’t remember where the Plaza got inspiration for this menu, you might want to rewatch season 2, episode 8 of the show when Midge takes her pregnant and kind friend Imogene to a Jewish grocery store. . When Imogene freaks out over all the unfamiliar foods on the menu, Midge orders what might be the best Jewish deli meal ever: “Reuben hot pastrami on rye, chicken in a pot, knish potatoes, matzah ball soup , Danish cheese, a lime rickey and some black and whites for dessert. Alas, while Jewish delicatessens 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, Seinfeld’s food trucks have started touring the country. Designed to promote TV stations airing reruns of “Seinfeld,” the food trucks handed out snacks that hilariously appeared on episodes of the famous ’90s sitcom, including Junior Mints, Drake’s Coffee Cake, and , of course, Jerry’s favorite cookie, black and white. (No soup, big salads or babka apparently.) After its April 22 launch in New York, the truck also stopped in Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco where fans lined up for snacks. freebies and photo shoots.
You probably remember why Seinfeld’s food truck included a black and white cookie on its rather short menu. It’s a tribute to an episode from the show’s fifth season, “The Dinner Party.” In this episode, Jerry and Elaine stop at a bakery to pick up a chocolate babka to take to a dinner party. (It’s hard to overstate how much “Seinfeld” has done to raise the profile of Jewish pastries.) While waiting to swap out the “minus” cinnamon babka they ended up with — due to the presence of a Hair – Jerry Bites a Black and White Biscuit and Philosophical Waxes: “See, the key to eating the black and white biscuit, Elaine, is that you want to have black and white in every bite…yet, d somehow, racial harmony eludes us. If people just looked at the cookie, all of our problems would be solved!”
Stephen Coppola is a Seinfeld superfan who braved a cold drizzle and high winds in Chicago to line up for the Seinfeld food truck on May 1. His goal: to try his very first black and white cookie. “I don’t even know if I’ve ever had one before, but I love ‘Seinfeld’ and I know it’s a big thing on the show. So I thought I should buy a cookie in black and white while I’m here,” Coppola explained. When asked what he thought the cookie would taste like, Coppola replied, “I have no idea. I hope it tastes good, but I guess it will be. Mixing chocolate and vanilla can’t go wrong.
The chocolate and vanilla together – although not actually mixed, as we’ll discuss later – are, in fact, the hallmark of the black and white cookie. Known in some circles as half moon cookies, the origin of the black and white cookie is a bit murky. Glaser’s Bake Shop on the Upper East Side, which was founded by immigrants from Bavaria, claimed to have invented the black and white cookie. (Sadly, Glaser’s closed in 2018 after 116 years.) The other claimant to that title — though it uses the half-moon moniker — is Hemstrought’s Bakery in Utica, New York. Hemstrought’s version appears to be a completely different confection; for one thing, the cookie is chocolate.
Whichever story you believe, it seems clear that black and white didn’t start out as Jewish food. Eventually, however, the cookie became strongly associated with Jewish bakeries in and around New York. As Melissa Clark writes in The 100 Most Jewish Foods, “Blacks and whites have been an integral part of the very robust Jewish cookie scene in New York for a century.” The association with New York in particular is undeniable. Bake from scratch The magazine’s May/June 2022 issue names the black-and-white cookie as New York State’s signature dessert, like key lime pie is in Florida or pecan pie is in Georgia. .
Not only is the origin of the black and white cookie a matter of dispute, but what makes a good B&W is also hotly debated. Beth Corman Lee, author of The Essential Jewish Baking Cookbook, points out that “like most iconic foods, there are strong opinions about what makes the ‘perfect’ B&W cookie. Is it the texture of the cake? The two-tone icing? A hint of lemon or almond? Or is it the memories attached to each bite?
To make matters worse, blacks and whites aren’t even really cookies. Technically, they’re a drop cake. Indeed, the method used to make the, uh, dessert, is much closer to how you make cake batter than cookie dough and the texture of the end product is soft and similar to a cake with a crumb fine. So calling it a cookie is just a lie?
With all this debate and controversy surrounding the black and white cake, should we still consider it an edible symbol of racial harmony as Jerry Seinfeld claimed? Even President Obama once referred to black-and-white cookies as “unity cookies” during his campaign in South Florida in 2008. (South Florida, of course, being the sixth borough of New York.)
Lee explains that when she was researching her book, “there was a broad consensus that the Black and White Cookie is an essential baked good in the Jewish culinary tradition. However, the origin of the cookie, the ingredient list and visual reflection of American racial “unity” could leave room for disagreement and argument. In fact, the case of the B&W cookie as representing any type of unity is more than a little flawed. In Tablet, African-American Orthodox Rabbi MaNishtana (a pseudonym) points out that the black and white parts of the cookie remain forever divided: “It’s not a racial harmony cookie. It’s a Jim Crow cookie,” Says MaNishtana Ouch.
But ultimately, the black-and-white cookie—yes, we’re sticking with the “cookie”—doesn’t need to be a symbol or a metaphor to justify its popularity. A B&W is a dessert and a delicious one at that. According to Lee, “B&W cookies hit all the fine points of a perfect treat – a nostalgic vibe, a cookie that’s also a mini cake, and two types of frosting creating perfect two-flavor bites.” Indeed, even MaNishtana admits to loving the taste of the cookie. Thanks to Jerry Seinfeld, Mrs. Maisel and Häagen-Dasz, the black and white cookie is expanding beyond its Jewish and New York-centric past and reaching grateful new audiences. And it only took 120 years!
Make your own Black & White Cookies with my recipe here.