Erroneously referred to as half moon cookies by those heralding mostly from Upstate New York and New England, New York City’s iconic black and whites know no equal. Yes, they bear a striking resemblance to the half-moon cookies of Utica fame. However, they are not synonymous in either taste, texture or history with their rural cousins. Trying to decide which came first is a lot like debating chickens and eggs, but lineage aside, New York City’s signature sweet is the stuff of memories and dreams for all New Yorkers.
From Whence Did It Come?
Once upon a time, there were two German immigrants who decided to open a bakery in Manhattan’s thriving, Yorkville neighborhood. Legend has it that John and Justine Glaser brought this delectable and original centuries-old recipe with them from the old country. Glaser’s Bake Shop, first opened by the starry-eyed couple in 1902, has stayed in the family and stands by the original black and white cookie recipe made famous by the pair to this day. More a delicately-flavored drop cake than a cookie, Glaser’s dense and rich batter has ample flour so as to make sure the dough doesn’t get runny on a heated pan, but not so much that the cookie dries out when it comes out of the oven. Iced half with chocolate and half with vanilla fondant frosting, the black and white cookie can, if you squint just right, resemble a half moon. Another cookie was, however, getting its start in another place.
Another Cookie Gets It Start in a Faraway Place
Back in the 1920s, upstate New York was as different from the hubbub of the city as imagination could possibly fathom, but the great equalizer, from the Mohawk Valley down to the Bowery, was New York’s taste for something sweet. In Utica, this insatiable sweet tooth would be magnificently satisfied at the now-defunct, Hemstrought’s Bakery, the storied home of the half moon cookie. Reminiscent of an old Dutch recipe which was sold from street carts in Utica throughout the early 1900s, this cookie-cake took on mythical proportions not only for its taste, but also for its medieval roots and romanticized homage to the lunar cycle common throughout Europe. Delicious and rich, half moon cookies were often built upon a chocolate cake base and covered in astonishingly thick butter cream — chocolate on one side and vanilla on the other.
Just Eat One Already
Recipes for both black and whites and half moons abound. Chefs from Niagara Falls down to Long Island’s North Shore have played with each recipe, making them their own and bringing sugar-coated joy to New Yorkers across all corners of the state. Whether your taste leans towards butter cream or fondant, a moist or ever-so-slightly crumbly texture, it’s time for you to do your own taste test. Black and whites can be found in most bagel shops and bakeries in the city, as well as in upstate New York. Some of New York’s best can be found here:
- Gingerbread Bake Shop, New Hartford, NY
- Glaser’s Bake Shop, New York, NY
- Leske’s Bakery, Brooklyn, NY
- Moishe’s Bake Shop, New York, NY
- Parisi Bakery, Queens, NY
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.