"If you want to bake a delicious and nostalgia-inducing batch of cookies, this is your ticket."
When I was a little girl, my dad often went on business trips to New York City. On his way home, he always made sure to stop at one of the old German bakeries on the Upper East Side to pick up treats for my brother, my mom, and me. He bought almond crescents, little animals made out of marzipan, thick slices of lemon cake, and, of course, black and white cookies.
To this day, black & white cookies remain a favorite for us both. Years ago when I wrote an article for the Brooklyn Paper on the borough's best black and whites, I brought him samples of all the top contenders so that he could weigh in. Born and raised in Manhattan, he has been eating black and white cookies all his life and knows what makes for an exceptional rendition: a cakey base with hints of lemon and vanilla, and smooth layers of fondant frosting that are sugary and thick but not at all gooey.
With Father's Day approaching, I had black and white cookies on the brain. While my search for a black and white mix proved unsuccessful, I did find a recipe on Betty Crocker's website for black and whites using a sugar cookie mix as the base. The majority of reviews had given the recipe five spoons (Betty Crocker's highest rating). One even commented: "This recipe was fantastic. I made it for my dad who misses the old fashioned NY cookies and these taste EXACTLY like the originals." I was sold. I ran to the store to buy all the ingredients.
Instead of preparing the cookies according to the package instructions, I followed the recipe and added buttermilk, softened butter, eggs, and lemon zest. The resulting mix looked promising—much more like cake batter than cookie dough. I dropped heaping spoonfuls (about three tablespoons each) onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and baked my cookies for exactly 15 minutes. They came out perfectly, like corn muffin tops, with puffed centers and golden-brown edges.
The frosting was a simple combination of confectioners' sugar, butter, heavy cream, and chocolate. I had to add few extra splashes of cream to make my frosting spreadable, but overall it was pretty easy to work with. Once my cookies were slicked with half vanilla and half chocolate, I had to admit they looked impressive. Not as sleek and smooth as bakery black and whites, but a pretty good homemade version.
Best of all, the flavor was surprisingly authentic. I had been skeptical of the sugar cookie mix. I feared that my black and whites would come out thin and crispy, with a distinct "cookie mix" taste. Instead, the buttermilk rendered them tender as cupcakes and the lemon zest imparted fresh-from-a-real-oven flavor. The only disappointment was the frosting, which had far more in common with buttercream than fondant.
If you want to create an exact replica of New York-style black and whites, you'll have to use a different frosting. However, if you just want to bake a delicious and nostalgia-inducing batch of cookies for your dad, this is your ticket.