The sweet, crumbly "sandie" was Steve Blanco's favorite cookie of all of the ones made by his Moroccan mother, so he and his girlfriend, Heidi Karlsen, set out to see if they could update the white flour/white sugar/GMO oil formula to one with more healthful ingredients. The first change they made was swapping out wheat flour for organic dark rye flour. "I've always been a fan of rye," Blanco says, "and the body breaks it down totally different than wheat. It hasn't been hybridized."
Karlsen, who used to bake at a health food store, "brought coconut oil to the table," Blanco explains. "It's very healthy and gives the cookies a really rich taste." But the benefits of the extra-virgin coconut oil didn't come easily. "We didn't want to use butter or vegetable oil, but coconut is difficult to work with because there's no water in it," he says, "and getting the right texture was really difficult." Between the rye flour and the coconut oil, neither of which behave like their more commonly used counterparts, he says, "it was so crazy trying to make it work."
But Karlsen and Blanco persevered until they were happy with the result, which they called Sandcastles. The not-too-sweet cookies have a haunting, unusual flavor from the rye flour that sets them apart from other shortbread-style cookies. "I haven't really found another 100% rye cookie anywhere," Blanco says. Right now, the sandies are available in three flavors: original with black sesame seeds, marzipan, and maple-dusted cardamom with pumpkin seeds, with two more flavors in development: an absinthe (anise) variety and one that will be dipped in dark and white chocolate in a dual nod to the company's name and that iconic New York treat, the black and white cookie.
Karlsen and Blanco work hard to meet the increasing clamor for their product. "We produce 1100 cookies in a shift," Blanco says, "and we're in desperate need of scaling up." The cookies are currently available at stores ing Long Island City, Greenpoint, and Manhattan, as well as the Brooklyn Flea and online, with more outlets to come. Find a complete vendor list at blackblanco.com.