The Secret to the Best Black and White Cookie

Three iconic recipes put to the test.

I can’t stay quiet any longer: This “perfect black and white cookie” recipe isn’t actually perfect. If you grew up in New York, you’d understand. The moon-shaped black and white cookie, with its yin-yang chocolate and vanilla frosting, is ubiquitous there, sold in diners, delis, and bodegas (and bakeries, of course). Grabbing a black and white is like grabbing a slice of pizza — quick, easy, satisfying, and always there when you need it. 

Based on popularity alone, you’d think everyone bakes black and white cookies at home. But they don’t. Making them is a bit of a patshke, and they never seem to come out as well as the ones you buy at the store. 

My mother has been collecting black and white cookie recipes for nearly three decades. She keeps them in a stack on a shelf in the pantry next to her cookbooks, and every year or so, we muse about making them — all eight or nine recipes at once — to figure out which one yields the best results. So far, we haven’t gotten around to it, but when the New York Times published Melissa Clark’s recipe for the “perfect” version earlier this summer, I immediately called my mom.

“Did you see the new recipe for black and white cookies in the Times?!” I gushed breathlessly when she picked up. “No!” she exclaimed, sounding slightly annoyed, as if she couldn’t believe the editors hadn’t given her a heads-up before publishing it. I couldn’t wait any longer; I had to know if Clark’s version was the answer to our sweet tooth prayers. So, I gathered the ingredients and got to work. Here’s what I learned.

“Perfect” is Subjective

There are lots of variations of this cookie. It can have a spongy, cake-like consistency or a drier, firmer crumb. It can be round and flat as a pancake or gently curved on one side, like a madeleine. It can be flavored with lemon, almond, both, or neither. The frosting may be solid fondant that cracks when you bite into it or lush buttercream that coats your lips and dissolves on your tongue.

“We’re between kind of a cake and a cookie, so the base of the cookie is very soft and melts in your mouth,” says Carol Becker, owner of William Greenberg Desserts in Manhattan. “And we use really fresh, good fondant, so it doesn’t crack,” she continues. “It’s a burst of flavor.” Her bakery sells thousands of black and white cookies each week — sometimes even in a day — and has topped numerous “best of” lists for years. Their version also served as inspiration for Clark’s recipe.

Like Clark, I prefer a moist, cake-like texture flavored with both lemon and almond. But I needed something to compare it to. So, I whipped up a couple of other versions, one from the Nosher archives and one from Zabar’s.

Small Changes Yield Big Results 

At first glance, the three recipes were very similar, calling for butter, sugar, flour, vanilla, eggs, and so on. But slight differences in ingredients can lead to very distinct results. The Zabar’s recipe calls for cake flour in addition to regular flour, and lemon extract rather than zest. The Clark recipe calls for sour cream or Greek yogurt instead of buttermilk. And the Nosher recipe calls for more baking soda and less baking powder than the Clark recipe, and only cocoa powder (no actual chocolate) in the chocolate frosting.

Like any good recipe tester, I brought all three batches of cookies to work so my colleagues could sample them and I could gather their feedback. Everyone seemed to like the Nosher cookie because it was the most cake-like and not overly sweet; however, some of us picked up on a slight aftertaste of baking soda. The Clark recipe — my personal favorite of the three — had better flavor overall, but the cookie wasn’t quite as soft. And while the Zabar’s version tasted good, most people thought it was too firm compared to the others. Overall, the Clark recipe and the Nosher recipe split the votes, with just one person sticking by Zabar’s. 

My Secrets to Making the Ultimate Black and White Cookie

  1. Adding buttermilk, sour cream, or Greek yogurt to your batter adds flavor and creates a more tender crumb.
  2. Lemon zest lends a more subtle zing than lemon extract.
  3. Almond extract — used sparingly — adds depth of flavor.
  4. Real chocolate, in addition to cocoa, makes the chocolate icing more rich and satisfying.
  5. It’s best to use an ice cream scoop to shape and drop the cookies onto your baking sheet. This leads to a rounder bottom, but if you prefer a flat cookie, you can press the scooped batter down with the bottom of a measuring cup before baking (you’ll need to decrease the cooking time accordingly, since the cookies will be thinner).

Keep on Noshing

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