In his 2004 book New York City Food, Arthur Schwartz writes, “Black and Whites were never very good, and nowadays they’re worse.” This might sound like harsh criticism for a food that seems to inspire nostalgia-fueled longing in most sentient beings. But the sad truth is these cookies — drop cakes, actually, said to have originated in central New York at the turn of the 20th century — can be disappointing, with dry, flavorless innards and junky fondant glaze. Still, their association with the city’s old-world bakeries is motivation enough for chefs and bakers to tweak the form and improve upon the old model. Witness this summer’s launch of the Black & Walt ice-cream sandwich, a collaboration between Ample Hills Creamery and Baked bakery. Or the Russ & Daughters Cafe’s black-and-white sundae, consisting of black-and-white-cookie-batter ice cream, half-coated with a chocolate shell, and garnished with a house-baked black and white.
Compared to them, Sadelle’s baker Melissa Weller’s 2 ¾-inch lemon-zested, buttermilk-enriched minis seem positively demure. Online bakery Mah-Ze-Dahr reinterprets the icon as a tender-crisp snickerdoodle coated with dark chocolate and stylishly drizzled with white. And the black and whites on Eleven Madison Park’s New York-inspired tasting menu are more symbol than faithful reproduction, appearing as savory amuse-bouche to start (currently, a Cheddar-and-apple construction with white-butter and black-vegetable-ash glazes) and as more conventionally iced oatmeal shortbread to finish. They may not be “authentic,” but when it comes to black-and-white cookies, that might be a good thing.
*This article appears in the October 19, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.