It’s a pretty well-established fact that while everyone loves black-and-white cookies, no one actually likes black-and-white cookies. By which we mean: They look great. They smell great. They induce practically Proustian pangs of nostalgia, even in people who didn’t grow up eating them and have never seen season five, episode 77, of Seinfeld. But they almost always disappoint thanks to dry, flavorless innards and junky fondant frosting.
This may have something to do with the fact that the black-and-white is not really a cookie but rather a sort of drop cake with delusions of grandeur. As Arthur Schwartz points out in his 2004 book New York City Food, “Black-and-whites were never very good, and nowadays, they’re worse.”
Despite their inherent flaws, though, black-and-whites continue to exert their mysterious pull on the collective appetite. Even hardened detractors weaken in the presence of a fresh batch at some old-school bakery into which they’ve stumbled. “And, oh, what the hell,” they hear themselves saying to the counterperson as if compelled by some hypnotic spell. “I’ll take a black-and-white, too.” So it’s no wonder that in recent years, bakers have given up trying to reform this incompetent cookie and instead focused their energies on reinventing it.
The latest to take a whack at it is the new Upper East Side branch of Breads Bakery, where the black-and-white consists of two-tone layers of flaky laminated dough wrapped around a Breton-style cookie. (Yes, when it comes to deconstructing classic if routinely underwhelming Jewish-bakery staples— see babka — Breads looks not to the cookie but to the viennoiserie: If you can’t fix it, laminate it!) The high-quality chocolate is Swiss, the cocoa powder is extra dark, the vanilla bean is Tahitian, and the overall turduckenlike effect is of a chocolate croissant that swallowed a sablé, half of it flavored with chocolate chips. In short, it’s freaking delicious. Yet is it a black-and-white? Well, technically no, but that’s not stopping folks from scooping them up like rolls of Charmin during the first few months of the pandemic. “On opening day, we sold out at 9:30 a.m.,” says Breads owner Gadi Peleg. “Since then, we’ve doubled, then redoubled our production, and we’re still selling out. Upper East Siders are hungry for them.”
Breads Bakery, 1294 Third Ave.; breadsbakery.com