If there were such a thing as an official borough cookie, Brooklyn’s would be the black and white. Part cake, part cookie, half chocolate and half vanilla, the black and white has been my favorite dessert since I was a little girl. On top of all that, the rumor that the cookie was invented in Brooklyn makes it that much sweeter.
These days, though, even Seattle-based Starbucks is hawking the treat in insultingly expensive and tiny portions, and formerly local baking behemoth Entemann’s sells a shameful version at grocery stores all over, which led me to ask: who makes the tastiest black and white cookie in town? I was looking for a cake-like base that wasn’t too dry, but held up to the frosting, which should be sweet without hurting my teeth or overpowering the base. I was open to new ideas — buttercream frosting, for example — but wouldn’t settle for anything less than perfection.
Armed with a serious sweet tooth and gallons of milk, I set out to find the borough’s freshest, softest, most sugary standard bearer.
The black and white cookie at Cousin John’s ($1.50) was sophisticated and streamlined, the kind of dainty confection you would expect to see at a fancy patisserie. The cookie was delicate and crispy, and tasted like the best Nilla wafer you’ve ever had. Oddly, it was frosted on both sides, as if the baker dunked each half in a big vat of chocolate and vanilla instead of spreading the sweet stuff on with a knife. The icing was evenly distributed, thin and fondant-like, but lacked the punch I was looking for. If you’re in the mood for superior shortbread, Cousin John’s is the treat to eat. But if what you really crave is a classic, cakey black and white, keep looking. Grade: B
The black and white at Cranberry’s ($1.75) was — get ready for this — chocolate. At once crumbly and moist, it struck the perfect balance between cake and cookie. While certainly not traditional, the fudgy flavor added a surprising richness and intensity that classic versions sometimes lack. The frosting was creamy and fresh, but could have been spread a little thicker on the vanilla side. An innovative take on tradition. Grade: A-
Even after eating this entire cookie ($1.50), I still wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be crispy or had gone stale. The cookie layer (it definitely wasn’t classifiable as cake) had an appealing, buttery taste, but was too sandy and dry. There was plenty of frosting, but the vanilla half had too much cornstarch, which resulted in a gummy, chewy texture. The chocolate side was better, the icing was rich and sugary and reminded me of canned Dunkin’ Hines frosting, which was not a bad thing. Sell the frosting with a spoon and I’ll be the first in line. Grade: C
“This cookie looks like it was made with love,” said a friend of mine as we prepared to dig into the cookie here, and he was right. Certainly, it was the freshest of the bunch, the knife tracks still visible in the rich, if somewhat unorthodox buttercream frosting (black and whites are traditionally made with a thin layer of concentrated icing). The chocolate and vanilla sides were equally balanced, and the cake was dense and slightly crumbly. Joyce’s black and white ($1.50) is about a quarter of the size of the standard deli variety but, as the saying goes, good things come in small packages. When I asked Joyce why she decided to include black and whites on her classically French menu, she responded, “I have a soft spot for old, hole-in-the-wall bakeries. I love black and white cookies. We serve them so we can secretly steal a cookie every now and again!” Grade: A
The first thing you’ll notice about this black and white ($1.75) is the sheer enormity of it all. It’s so big, I was inspired to go get a ruler, and I measured almost six inches in diameter and one and a half inches deep. But best of all, the taste doesn’t fall short. The thickness of the cake, which was fluffy rather than doughy, helped balance out the candy-like icing. The vanilla was especially tangy and sticky, perfect for licking off your fingers, but I preferred the more-subdued chocolate side, which was sweet and slightly powdery in texture. All in all, this is a classic treat — very down to earth, save for its resemblance to a flying saucer. And be sure to get it with milk or a cup of coffee; if you do manage to finish the whole thing, you’ll need something to wash it down with. Grade: A-
Cousin John’s Bakery & Cafe (70 Seventh Ave., between Lincoln and Berkeley places in Park Slope) is open Sunday through Thursday from 7 am-10 pm, and Friday and Saturday from 7 am-11 pm. For information, call (718) 622-7333.
Cranberry’s (48 Henry St., between Cranberry and Middagh streets in Brooklyn Heights) is open Monday through Friday from 5:45 am-7 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 6 am-5 pm. For information, call (718) 624-3500.
F. Monteleone & Cammareri Bros. Bakery (355 Court St., between President and Union streets in Carroll Gardens) is open daily from 7 am-9 pm. For information, call (718) 852-5600.
Joyce Bakeshop (646 Vanderbilt Ave., between Park and Prospect places in Prospect Heights) is open Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 am-7:30 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 9 am-6 pm. For information, call (718) 623-7470 or visit www.joycebakeshop.com.
Your Baker (518 86th St., near Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge) is open daily from10 am-6 pm. For information, call (718) 836-0022.