Sunday, February 22, 2009

Black and Whites

Black and White Cookies

Greenberg's, $3.50

Many years ago, when I was living overseas for the first time, a very thoughtful boyfriend sent me a care package all the way from New York: some knicknacks, some reading material, and half a dozen black and white cookies.

Black and whites are a New York confectionery icon--a disc of firm yellow cake bisected by swathes of vanilla and chocolate frosting, like a no-nonsense, urbanized yin-yang. Like most icons, black and whites are instantly recognizable but open to endless reinterpretation. Every bakery and nearly every quickie mart sells a version, and aficionados hotly debate which ones are "real" and which one is "the best".

William Greenberg Jr.'s black and whites are often at or near the top of these lists. Greenberg's was founded in 1946 by a GI who returned from service in occupied France with a hunger for rich treats and enough poker winnings to start his own bakery. On the bakery wall there is a photo of another soldier with the poignant caption, "I am a Jewish soldier stationed in Iraq and and a gentleman from CBS just arrived here and at my request bought me two black and white cookies from your store. Just wanted to say they were incredible."

All black and whites are more vertically-challenged cupcake than cookie, and Greenberg's cake base is very pleasant--soft but firm, moist, and buttery. The icing on black and whites is typically a stiff fondant, with the white side sometimes tinged with lemon. Greenberg's white icing is sweet and chewy, as if confectioner's sugar and well-aged Elmer's glue were the main ingredients (note that this is not a criticism!). The black icing, slightly less dense, was fudgy (Greenberg's is known for baking with high quality chocolate) and mellow, and seemed to have a little coffee flavor thrown in for good measure. In a nod to the times, Greenberg's also offers mini black and whites and gives special orderers the option of choosing their own colors (Ted Turner would no doubt approve).

I enjoyed my Greenberg's black and white very much, but somehow it didn't taste quite as sweet as those care-package cookies from long ago. As soon as that box arrived I ate one cookie, then put the rest away, planning to ration them out over the following weeks. Later that same evening my housemate came home stoned, let herself into my cabinet, and polished them all off. When I confronted her (probably tearfully) with a wad of icing-smeared plastic wrap, she offered no apologies, only this whiny excuse: "But I had the munchies..."

I was pissed off but not unsympathetic; black and whites just have that sort of power over people. I never spoke to that housemate again--but I did restrain myself from burying her in the back yard.

William Greenberg Jr. Desserts
1100 Madison Ave. (82/83rd)
New York, NY

Other sources of note:
Hot & Crusty
East Broadway Kosher Bakery
The Black & White Cookie Company

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