What Makes a Good New York Black & White Cookie? Thoughts on the Best

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Black and white cookie at Nussbaum & Wu. [Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

We black and white fans seem to be losing.

New York has more "artisan" cookies and brownies and candy than we know what to do with, but a black and white cookie worth talking about? A far more rare thing indeed.

Ed shared his thoughts on the cookie back in 2008, tracing its origins to central New York rather than NYC, and pointing out just how many of them are underwhelming. So five years later, where do we stand?

There isn't much improvement.

I'll admit black and white cookies are more a nostalgia item than a top-shelf cookie. The cake-like base is bland and tough once it's no longer fresh (and when is it fresh?), and the hard fondant icing top is usually sweet and waxy to the exclusion of anything else. That chocolate never tastes much like quality chocolate, and the white side (is it supposed to taste like vanilla?) is little beyond a sugary cookie lid.

But that doesn't mean it's theoretically impossible to make a crave-worthy black and white cookie. Really, it's more of a creative challenge to do them well.

One increasingly common response of bakers is to swap out the hard fondant icing of the standard NYC black and white for buttercream or fudge-based frosting. Head upstate and you're more likely to find black and whites made this way—except they're typically called half-moons.

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Red velvet black and white cookie at William Greenberg Desserts. [Photograph: Kathy YL Chan]

You'll find examples of this style in the city at Joyce Bakeshop and William Greenberg Desserts—two of the better regarded black and white producers citywide.

But to my mind, these fudge-topped cookies are different creatures altogether. Fudge frosting on a cakey cookie is as much a flattened cupcake as anything else; the essential nature of a black and white is the contrast between spongy crumb and snappy icing.

For a quintessentially NYC black and white done right, I don't know of a better option than Nussbaum & Wu in Morningside Heights, where the cookies are made daily. The cookie base itself is shorter than others, and flat on the bottom so you get better icing distribution and a pleasantly browned cookie foot. Unlike every other deli cookie out there, it's fresh with the delicate kiss of vanilla and the slightly eggy scent of homemade birthday cake.

The fondant icing forms a substantial lacquer right over the cookie's edge. The white icing is sweet, but restrained compared to the competition, and the chocolate side delivers real fudgy chocolate flavor. You wouldn't confuse it for real quality chocolate, but it's a substantial upgrade.

Most importantly, a Nussbaum & Wu black and white exhibits the tender crumb and firm snap that makes the cookie such a treat to think about. But be sure to eat it quick: by the next day it dries out into a tough mass, a Cinderella cookie after the stroke of midnight.

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Black and mocha at Nussbaum & Wu. [Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Nussbaum & Wu sells cookies in large and mini sizes, and also multiple flavors. The tan seen here is mocha, which you can get next to white or chocolate icing. You can also get cookies with just black or white icing, a solid circle of white or brown. But it's all mishegas. The standard black and white trumps them all.

We're still looking for black and white cookie perfection, and I'd like to think that there's another bakery out there doing them like Nussbaum & Wu. So what are your favorite black and white cookies, serious eaters? And more importantly: what are your criteria for good ones?

Nussbaum & Wu

2897 Broadway, New York, NY 10025 (map)
212-280-5344
nussbaumwu.com

About the author: Max Falkowitz is the editor of Serious Eats: New York. You can follow him on Twitter at @maxfalkowitz.

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