When it comes to a classic Jewish cookie, New York bakeries go beyond black and white

(New York Jewish Week) – When it comes to New York Jewish desserts, perhaps the most ubiquitous is the black and white cookie, that smooth, sweet, icy treat found in bakeries and bagel shops all over the world. the city.

Black and white cookies, sometimes called crescent cookies, are understood by most to be a Jewish dessert. “Seinfeld” once dedicated an episode to singing his praises. “You see, Elaine, the key to eating a black and white cookie is that you want to get something black and white in every bite,” says Jerry. “Nothing goes together better than vanilla and chocolate. And yet, somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people would just look at the cookie, all our problems would be solved.”

But now, in a testament to New Yorkers’ innovation, or possibly the old adage, “everything old is new again,” bakeries across the city are cashing in on this tried-and-true classic. These days, black and white cookies are available in a myriad of colors and flavors: yellow and blue to support Ukraine, red to celebrate Valentine’s Day, brown and yellow to mark the fusion of banana, chocolate, and hazelnut.

The black and white cookie flavored with banana and walnut. (Zaro’s Family Bakery)

The latter is one of six new flavor combinations at Zaro’s Family Bakery, where brothers and fourth-generation owners Brian, Michael and Scott Zaro have wholeheartedly embraced new takes on the two-tone classic. Earlier this month, the bakery introduced its new black and white cookie flavor and color combinations, including orange and white (cream cheese frosted carrot cake), green and black (mint chips), as well as a cookie topped with M&Ms, a sprinkled cookie -Filled Birthday Cake flavor and Cookies and Cream flavor.

“We’ve been making the black and white cookie for 95 years,” Brian Zaro, who has been working full-time for his family’s business since 2006, told New York Jewish Week. “My brother, Scott, had a vision to make an iconic item that would go hand in hand with innovation.”

A carrot cake flavored cookie is topped with orange frosting and white cream cheese. (Zaro’s Family Bakery)

Black and white is one of the exclusive offerings at Zaro’s, which is known for setting up shop in New York’s biggest transit hubs, including Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station, and LaGuardia Airport. The bakery’s website boasts of selling more than 90,000 dark and white cookies a year, and this season’s new flavors join Zaro’s dark and white chocolate chip cookies, which they’ve been offering for several years, Brian said. (Black and white on the outside, with chocolate chips baked into the batter.)

Of course, these creative interpretations raise an obvious question: how far can a bakery move away from chocolate and vanilla before black and white is no longer black and white?

“It’s a valid point,” admits Brian Zaro. “But right now, yeah, it’s a black and white. That could change; we always try to be as open as possible.”

Shannon Sarna, author of “Modern Jewish Baker” and editor of our partner site The Nosher, agrees. “I’m not a purist,” she said. “I don’t think they have to be black and white to be a true black and white cookie.”

For Sarna, the most important things for the integrity of a black and white are the flavors and the technique. “A good black and white cookie will have a bit of vanilla, orange or lemon zest flavor that could be in the batter,” he said. “It has to have a good quality glaze. It won’t just taste like sugar. It will have a bit of a chocolate flavor and a bit of the white flavor, more of vanilla.”

For some, the doughy cookie with its signature two-tone frosting is only as good as the sense of nostalgia it offers. As the New York Times wrote in 1998: “Today’s whites and blacks can’t be compared to the blacks and whites of yesteryear, of course, just as no mayor will be as good at LaGuardia or any team as beloved as the Dodgers. . Sarna, who grew up in New York, calls black and white “the cookies of my childhood.”

Blacks and whites as we know them are said to have been popularized by the Upper East Side’s Glaser’s Bake Shop, which was founded in 1902 by John Herbert Glaser. Glaser reportedly brought the black-and-white recipe with him when he immigrated to the United States from Bavaria.

Third-generation owner Herb Glaser, who ran the bakery with his brother until it closed for good in 2018, can’t confirm this, but, at 70, says they’ve been a feature of the bakery since he was a child. .

Although she now lives “in the country,” Glaser is well aware of new black-and-white trends. “Some of the companies are making them too loud,” he said. “They’re not really black and white anymore.”

Still, Glaser said his bakery occasionally made cookies in different colors, for proms, schools and, most notably, orange and blue when the Mets were in the World Series in 1986. “I’m a traditionalist but I understand,” he added. Glaser. “It’s a question of marketing and that’s fine. It’s a way to stay in business.”

“I think there’s kind of a New York pride associated with it as ‘the New York cookie,’ and it just so happens to be a really good cookie,” said Noah Aris, the baker and owner of The Cardamom Man, who he sells his baked goods online and in street markets. Aris bakes whites and blacks with blue and gold icing to raise funds for humanitarian aid in Ukraine. In addition to the lemon zest in the batter, Aris has added lavender, leaving the batter dotted with purple dots.

The different colors “help me start a conversation to talk about what I do as a bakery and how to raise money for Ukraine,” he said. “So you listen [the customers’] story about his experiences with whites and blacks. It’s fun.”

Breads Bakery began baking black and whites with their signature laminated dough when they opened their Upper East Side location last year. “I operate on the simple thesis that when you give people something great, they will appreciate it no matter what their expectations may have been.” Peleg said. (Ashley Single)

In some bakeries, innovation starts with the dough. Last holiday season, Breads Bakery launched black and whites made with a laminated, croissant-like base instead of the classic doughy, doughy consistency.

“The first time I took a bite, it was very clear to me that we had elevated this cookie to a new level and given it the treatment it deserves,” said Breads owner Gadi Peleg. “I think we’ve done enough to nod to the nostalgic nature of the cookie – there’s just enough there to connect you to the memories you may have associated with a black and white cookie. But it’s different enough to bring it to a more modern New York, the New York of today.”

At Kossar’s Bagels & Bialys, which now has three locations across the city with one more on the way, customers will find the traditional black-and-white ones sitting next to chocolate or vanilla glazed versions, as well as multicolored and M&M-topped ones. versions.

“Some people just like chocolate, some people just like vanilla. So we use that as our inspiration to keep going,” general manager Sharon Bain said. “People love the fact that we’re doing something in black and white. We are serving everyone.”

Kossar’s will freeze the cookies with green for St. Patrick’s Day or red for Valentine’s Day, but the reset is only skin deep. According to Bain, “black and white refers to the chocolate and vanilla flavors of the frosting, and not the color.”

For Brian Zaro, too, flavor and color innovations are all about customer satisfaction, and this year the new black and white varieties are also available at Zaro’s outpost in Bryant Park Winter Village. “It’s new to us,” Zaro said. “But so far so good.”

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