Valentine’s Day holds a few very distinctive connotations in different circles. The same man who candidly said that “more than 50% of women will break up with their boyfriends if they don’t receive a gift on Valentine’s Day,” also mocked the holiday by saying all men need to do for their spouses is “by some flowers, tell her ‘I love you,’ and hold hands a lot.”
Another group spends days to weeks to months planning the night’s “celebration” with either their friends or significant others complete with romantic comedies and candle-lit
I belong to a third pool who equate this “single awareness day” with the nationwide appreciation of one thing: sweets. To me, Valentine’s Day is not Valentine’s Day without at least one trip to Central Market’s Chocolate Festival and a day set aside for baking.
With their distinct colors and simple cookie base, Black and White cookies seemed like the perfect recipe to mess around with for Valentine’s Day and who else would make better cookies than David Lebovitz? I set out to bake New York’s famous dessert and get creative with the icing!
This useful recipe from his fantastic cookbook Ready for Dessert helped me use the lemon half that had been sitting in the fridge for a few days. The fact that these organic lemons from my backyard are only picked when they are absolutely ripe gave me an extremely difficult time attempting to create any kind of zest with a grater. It was great having to scrape off the bitter white pith and then agonize over slicing and chopping the lemon peel into these minuscule bits!
I have to admit though, the Kitchen Aid stand mixer saved my life and my arm from having to hold up the hand-mixer for all the whipping and creaming that was required for this recipe.
The cookie dough turned out much stickier than I expected, which made for some rather unsuccessful first attempts at prying the stubborn batter out of the tablespoon and
smearing dropping it onto the cookie sheets.
With some effort and a few creative uses of utensils and my fingers, I finally managed to create a semblance of David’s masterpiece Black and White Cookies.
I did mention the numerous useless utensils didn’t I?
Ah, the joys of experiencing something new without the comfort of knowing what to expect. In my case, I had no idea Black and White cookies have a sponge cake-like texture naturally, which led to some initial disappointment and later, with some research, success!
Now comes the fun and equally messy part: the icing. No Black and White cookie would live up to its name without its signature monochromatic halves just as no Valentine cookie would be complete without either pink or hearts decorating it.
The batch of icing turned out to be exactly 200 ml for me so it was easy halving it for the separate colors, though if you had a design in mind with more chocolate than pink, the amounts would vary. I experimented with the red food coloring and found that I liked the slightly darker pink that around 2 to 3 drops gave the icing versus the initial 1 drop (I was set on avoiding that unnerving Pepto Bismol pink).
And, of course, chocolate is a necessity that pairs with just about anything, even BACON!
Armed with a handful of toothpicks and a nearby sink, I dug in (literally) to the “black” icing and just went at the cookies! The only thing to remember is to let the set for a while after the desired effect is achieved and to simply let the design form with only a little guidance. Many of my smears and drips turned out to look more artistic than I let on.
Be sure to soak whatever the icing lands on soon after decorating or you will wake up the next morning with a cutting board covered in rock hard pink bits glued on.
Even if half my senior class ended up bringing food (if anything, we know how to eat!) for Valentine’s Day, I still had a fantastic time experiencing these native New York cookies and judging from the speed they went, everyone else enjoyed them too!
Black and White Cookies
adapted from Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz
(Makes about 22 cookies)
- 1 cup (140 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (130 g) cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons (90 ml) whole or low-fat milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 cup (4 oz./115 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2/3 cup (130 g) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (250 g) powdered sugar, or more if needed
- 2 teaspoons plus 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2-3 drops red food coloring
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) water, or more if needed
- 3 tablespoons (20 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
To make the cookies, position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
In a small bowl, whisk together the all-purpose and cake flours, baking powder, and salt. In another small bowl, mix together the milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and lemon zest.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (0r in a bowl by hand), beat together the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until completely smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in half of the flour mixture, followed by the milk mixture, then stir in the remaining flour mixture and beat until the batter is smooth.
Drop 2 tablespoons (30 ml) batter in mounds, spaced 2 inches (5 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake, rotating the baking sheets midway through baking, until the cookies feel just set in the centers, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely on the baking sheets.
To make the icings, in a medium bowl, whisk together the 2 cups (225 g) powdered sugar with 2 teaspoons corn syrup, the lemon juice, the 1 teaspoon vanilla, and the water until smooth.
Transfer half of the mixture to a small bowl and whisk in the cocoa and remaining 2 teaspoons corn syrup to make the “black” icing (since I decorated half of the cookies pink on black and vice versa, I ended up with the right amount of icing in each color with the split). Add up to 2 teaspoons more water, if necessary, to make the icing spreadable; it should not be too thin, so begin by adding 1 teaspoon and add another teaspoon only if needed. Whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons powdered sugar along with the food coloring into the white icing. The two icings should have the same consistency: thick, but spreadable. (If the white icing is too thin, add a bit more powdered sugar.)
With a small icing spatula or a butter knife, spread white icing over one half of the flat (bottom) side of each cookie. Spread black icing over the other half. Let the icing set for a few minutes before serving.
Storage: The finished cookies can be stored for up to 2 days in an airtight container, preferably in a single layer so that the icing won’t be marred.