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The Best Black and White Cookies? Half-Moons? Amerikaners?

20080115-bwcookie.jpgMany current and former New York City residents swear by a local specialty: the black and white cookie, an oversize cakey, almost spongecakelike cookie iced with a shiny, half-vanilla, half-chocolate fondant frosting. There was even a famous Seinfeld episode, "The Dinner Party," in which Jerry held up a black and white cookie as a symbol of racial harmony and peace among men and women (George and Elaine, to be precise).

But what a lot of folks don't know is that, according to most culinary historians and even Wikipedia, black and white cookies probably originated in central New York (where they're called half-moons) at a Utica bakery, Hemstrought's. In 1999 Saveur magazine tracked down Hemstrought's half-moon cookie recipe. And just to confuse matters further, in Germany there is a black and white–like cookie called an Amerikaner.

Many, many years ago I remember doing a story on an upscale diner, the Lucky Dog, in Westhampton, New York. As a token of thanks for doing the story, the owner whipped out a box of half-moon cookies from a bakery in central New York and offered me one. He claimed these were the finest black and white cookies in the land. They were smaller than the New York black and white and mighty tasty, though. But for the life of me I can't remember the name of the bakery, though it may very well have been Hemstrought's.

I have found that most black and white cookies in New York City are leaden, oversize disks that are just too sweet and dry. They're made with inferior milk chocolate and other substandard ingredients. It's not hard to find one of these specimens. They're for sale at almost every deli, bodega, and convenience store in Gotham.

But there is at least one black and white cookie worth savoring.

The black and whites from William Greenberg Jr. Desserts are made with good-quality dark chocolate and are surprisingly light and moist. A dozen regular hubcap-size black and white cookies are $45 plus shipping. Eighteen minis are $27 plus shipping.

Serious Eats contributor Lucy Baker explored Brooklyn's best bakeries looking for the paradigmatic black and white in a story she wrote for the Brooklyn Paper. The only cookie she awarded an A to was from the Joyce Bakeshop. I think it's time for the ultimate interborough Serious Eats Black and White Cookie Taste-Off. And we might as well throw in some half-moons from Hemstrought's to avoid being called New York City chauvinists.

Wm. Greenberg Desserts

Address: 1100 Madison Avenue, New York NY 10128 (b/n 82nd and 83rd streets)
Phone: 212-861-1340

Joyce Bakeshop

Address: 646 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11238 (b/n Park and Prospect places)
Phone: 718-623-6470

Photograph from Wikipedia

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