Monday, December 05, 2005

New York black and white cookies and the science thereof

Fantastic! I get to write a single article about all three topics of this blog!

The cooking club I belong to is doing, for its next meal, the theme of "black and white food". I'm doing dessert, and so I decided to make black and white cookies. Here's one:

I have lived in New York City for more than two years now, and have yet to manage to purchase one of these cookies from a deli, despite the fact that every deli in the city (of which there are thousands) carry them. They are apparently a New York City institution, along with pastrami on rye, thin-crust pizza, cheesecake, and take-out Chinese food. They're a slightly chewy oversized cookie, with a white frosting and a chocolate frosting. Google, however, knows nothing about their origin (or history, or inventor).

Google does, however, know recipes, and so last night I downloaded and baked a batch! They turned out very well. (My recipe is here: black and white cookies.) Sweet and chewy and a bit lemony.

They're very interesting cookies, however. They're often described as being more like cakes than cookies. This intruiged me, so I flipped open my copy of McGee and read about batters and doughs. Sayeth McGee: "In doughs, the water content is low enough that the water-protein complex, gluten, constitutes the continuous phase in which the other components (starch granules, gas pockets) are embedded. In batters, which contain several times as much water as do doughs, water is the continuous medium in which the proteins, like the starch and gas, are dispersed." He also has a table that describes the relative proportions (by weight) of the various components of different sorts of batters and doughs. I sat down with my recipe, with my copy of Joy (with conversion tables in the back), and with a calculator to figure out the numbers for black and whites. Here are the results, which are only approximate, along with McGee's numbers for cookie dough and layer cake batter:

Compositions of cakes, batters, and black-and-whites
Cookie dough100204036451
Cake batter100130407501303
Black and whites1004735350671

(Ook, sorry about the flakey HTML table! In any case, McGee's numbers for eggs in cookie doughs presumably refer to sugar cookies, not to chocolate chip cookies, which are quite eggy...)

As you can see, black and whites are like a slightly thin, not very sweet, eggy, but not very buttery cookie. Cakey, but definitely not a cake in any formal sense. And recommended. I'm going to have to try sampling these from local delis... If anyone local has recommendations, let me have 'em!

And if I may conclude by a quote from the Poet:
"The thing about eating the Black and White cookie, Elaine, is you want to get some black and some white in each bite. Nothing mixes better than vanilla and chocolate And yet somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the cookie all our problems would be solved." - Jerry Seinfeld, Seinfeld (The Dinner Party)


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