When you think of classic Big Apple foods, a few staples come to mind: a $3 slice of pizza, a street-cart hot dog, a bagel with a schmear. But perhaps no treat is as famous in the city as the illustrious black and white cookie. The result of bakeries using up leftover cake batter at the end of the day, a black and white has a soft, fine crumb that more closely resembles your favorite vanilla cake than a cookie. The contrasting frosting on top is half chocolate, half vanilla (no need to pick a favorite!), divided down the middle, and melts in your mouth.
Many people trace black and white cookies back to Glaser’s Bake Shop in Manhattan. Bavarian immigrants John and Justine Glaser opened the store in 1902, debuting the cookie; the bakery closed in 2018. Others point to Hemstrought’s Bakery in Utica, NY, which opened in 1920 and is still serving customers today. Their “half-moon” cookies can have either a chocolate-cake or vanilla-cake base and are topped with a thick layer of vanilla-buttercream frosting on one half and chocolate fudge frosting on the other. After World War II, the black and white cookie became a bigger part of Jewish-American food culture, and these days, many of the most famous black and white cookies in New York come from Jewish bakeries.
Black and whites were further ingrained in New York City lore in “The Dinner Party” episode of Seinfeld. In one scene, Jerry and Elaine are in a bakery, standing near the glass pastry case. “The key to eating a black and white cookie, Elaine, is you want to get some black and some white in each bite,” Jerry says. “And yet still somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the cookie, all our problems would be solved.”
Jerry is glazing over the issue of race relations here, but he does know how to properly eat a black and white. Make sure to eat the pastry within a day or two after they’re baked so they’re still soft and cakey. But how to approach the divide of black and white? Do you eat your favorite flavor first? Or go down the middle? “New Yorkers, after all, can measure a man by the tracks of his teeth imprinted in a black-and-white cookie,” wrote Molly O’Neill in a 2021 New York Times story on the cookie. She said Seinfeld was “ambivalent, incapable of choice, and afraid of commitment” because it took bites of equal black and white. So be cautious when biting, as this cookie is the New York equivalent of a Rorschach test.
Today, you can find black and white cookies in bodegas, bagel shops, and bakeries all over New York, or you can try your hand at making the delicious icon at home. They range in size, but what they all have in common is the bicolored icing, a more-cake-than-cookie texture, and a deep love amongst New Yorkers.
Where To Buy Black And White Cookies
Here are the best spots to get a black and white cookie, whether you are visiting New York City or want a dozen shipped to you.
Visit their Upper West Side location, or have a dozen mini black and white cookies shipped to your door.
William Greenberg Desserts
If you can’t get to their Manhattan bakery, you can order a variety of black and white cookies from their website, including a gluten-free version.
Russ and Daughters
This New York City institution is best known for their lox bagels, but don’t skip the cookie. They even deliver nationwide through Goldbelly!
Go for the bagels, stay for the black and white cookies.
Wu and Nussbaum
If you like a black and white cookie with fondant instead of ganache icing, head up to Morningside Heights for this one.
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