I've been doing a lot of baking lately. My kitchen has become a small-scale cookie factory, and my production has become so great that I've been passing off my cookies to anyone who expresses even the most vague interest in sweets. After a few weeks of putting out dozens of cookies an unsettling feeling spread over me. No, it wasn't a comedown from all of the butter and sugar I've been ingesting recently—it was more of a nagging sensation. I've baked dozens upon dozens of cookies, and they've all turned out well. Call me a cookie fatalist, but I kept thinking, "When was the cookie disaster going to happen?"
The answer came on Saturday night, when I set out to make these Black and White Cookies from America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book.
I was thrilled to see a recipe for this classic New York cookie, it was always been one of my guiltiest pleasures. For me, black and white cookies are about two things—visual appeal and icing appreciation. I couldn't wait to replicate these deli favorites at home, to see just what goes into that lemon-scented cakey cookie and what kind of magic made that sweet, sweet icing.
With an air of childlike excitement I rifled through my cabinets to assemble the ingredients for my black and white cookies, and it was in those very cupboards that the problems began. The recipe calls for 4 cups of cake flour, which I did not have. What I did have was a bag of organic pastry flour, and I mistakenly decided that it would do the trick. When pouring out the measured amount, the flour looked decidedly whole-wheaty, coarse, and clumpy. In the back of my mind I knew that this flour wasn't going to do the trick and, unsurprisingly, it didn't. The cookies tasted fine, nicely flavored with lemon and vanilla, but the texture was a disaster. They were grainy and heavy; with an equally heavy heart I deposited them in the trash.
After dinner and a snowstorm that prohibited a quick run to the grocery store for cake flour I consulted the inside cover of America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book; its helpful substitutions guide informed me that I could use 7/8 cup of all-purpose flour mixed with 2 tablespoons cornstarch to approximate cake flour. And it was with this indispensable piece of information that I was able to make the base for my black and white cookies.
After making the necessary substitutions my second batch of black and cookie bases came out perfectly and the icing process was definitely fun, if not a little messy. I packed up my cookies and brought them to another little holiday get together. It was at this party that I received the ultimate cookie compliment, my cookies were mistaken for store bought. In most cases that wouldn't warrant an overwhelming feeling of self satisfaction, but in this case I was quite pleased.
- 4 cups (16 ounces) cake flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1/3 cup water
- 5 cups (20 ounces) confectioners' sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
- 2-4 tablespoons water
Adjust the oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Beat in the eggs, vanilla, and lemon extract until combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl and beaters as needed.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in one-third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the milk. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture, and the remaining milk. Beat in the remaining flour mixture until combined.
Scoop 1/4-cup mounds of batter onto the prepared baking sheets, spaced about 2 inches apart. Use the back of a spoon or your finger dipped in water to smooth the tops of the cookies. Bake the cookies until the edges are just beginning to turn light golden brown, about 15 minutes, switching and rotating the baking sheets halfway through baking.
Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Repeat with the remaining dough using cooled, freshly lined baking sheets.
For the icings: Bring the corn syrup and water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla until smooth. Measure half of the icing into a separate bowl and whisk in the melted chocolate and 2 to 4 tablespoons of water as needed until the mixture is smooth and spreadable.
Place 2 large wire racks over parchment paper for easy clean up. Spread about 2 tablespoons of the chocolate icing over half of each cookie with a small spatula, then let sit on the wire racks until the icing has just set, about 15 minutes. Spread the vanilla icing over half of each cookie and let sit until the icings have hardened, about 1 hour before serving.