Originally published January 29, 2019. Updated March 31, 2022.
Whether you call them Black and Whites, Half and halfs, Halfmoons or Unity cookies, they still taste the same. More tiny cake than cookie, they have a thick spongy texture flavored with vanilla and a hint of lemon and almond. In keeping with tradition, you’re supposed to get a little black and a little white with each bite. Enjoy!
Why You'll Love This Black and White Recipe
- It is a close replica of the traditional New York City treat
- They are easy to make.
- Whether you like chocolate or vanilla, they have something for everyone.
- It's gluten free and dairy free!
What Is a Black and White Cookie?
Black and White Cookies originated in New York City around 1900. Although there are many tales about how they came to be half vanilla and half chocolate, historians believe it was simply because two-toned desserts were popular at the time. They get their name from their "black and white" icing made from vanilla and chocolate fondant glaze. Black and white cookies are most commonly found in the northeastern United States, especially New York, although you can find similar cookies (Half and Halfs, Halfmoons, Unity Cookies, Harlequins and even Amerikaners) in other locations.
Many people outside of the region first heard of the Black and White cookie on the famous Seinfeld episode where he tells Elaine to "look to the cookie" in reference to racial unity.
- Gluten Free Flour - I use Bob's Red Mill 1-to-1 Flour Blend for all of my recipes. You can use your favorite flour blend, but the results may vary. For the best outcome weigh your flour and use a flour blend that contains xanthan gum.
- Baking Soda & Baking Powder - This recipe needs a little of both to get the perfect cake like texture of a black and white.
- Salt - Just a little to enhance the flavors.
- Butter - I use Miyoko's vegan butter for this recipe, but you can use your favorite vegan butter. If you're not dairy free, regular butter will work in the same measure. Do not use margarine.
- Sugar - These cookies are a cross between a vanilla sugar cookie and a vanilla cake, so you need white sugar to achieve that flavor.
- Egg - Just one egg to hold things together. I haven't tried this recipe with an egg replacement. If you do, let me know how it turns out in the comments.
- Buttermilk - Make your own vegan buttermilk by combining vegan milk and vinegar. The sour is a trademark of the black and white flavor.
- Vanilla Extract, Lemon Zest & Almond Extract - all marry together to create the iconic flavor of this cookie.
How to Make Black and White Cookies
While these cookies look tricky, they are actually very easy to make.
- Step 1: Combine the gluten free flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest in a small bowl. Stir together until well mixed.
- Step 2: Combine room temperature butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium speed until light in color and fluffy.
- Step 3: Add the egg and extracts. Beat another 60 seconds.
- Step 4: With the mixer on the lowest speed, add half of the flour. Then half of the milk. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Stir until just combined.
- Step 5: Drop by ¼ cupfuls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, leaving 3-4 inches between cookies.
- Step 6: Bake!
Once your cookies are baked and cooled, you will need to prepare the trademark icing.
- Step 1: Sift powdered sugar into a small bowl.
- Step 2: Add milk, light corn syrup and vanilla. Stir until smooth.
- Step 3: Flip your cookies over so the flat side is up. Use a spatula to frost half of the cookie with white icing.
- Step 4: Wait for the white icing to dry to the touch - about 20 minutes.
- Step 5: Add cocoa powder to the remaining white icing and stir well.
- Step 6: Use a spatula to frost the second half of each cookie with chocolate icing, taking care to make a straight line down the middle.
Icing tip - you want your icing to be thick enough that it makes a ribbon that slowly fades away when drizzled into the bowl. Err on the side of too thick rather than too thin, as it is easier to add more liquid than to make it thicken again.
How to Store These Cookies
Black and White cookies are best within one day of baking.
If you do have leftovers, place the cookies in an airtight container with wax paper between layers. They will last for 3 days at room temperature or 4-5 days in the refrigerator.
You can also freeze these cookies for up to 1 month. Individually wrap each cookie in plastic wrap and place inside a freezer bag or airtight container. Bring cookies to room temperature before serving. Do not heat the frosted cookies.
If you are looking for more famous NYC recipes, check out these posts:
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Gluten Free Black and White Cookies
For the cookies
- 1 Cup + 2 tablespoon Gluten Free 1-to-1 Flour Blend (165 grams) I use Bob's Red Mill
- ½ teaspoon Baking Powder
- ¼ teaspoon Baking Soda
- ¼ teaspoon Salt
- ½ teaspoon Lemon Zest
- ⅓ Cup Vegan Butter room temperature
- ½ Cup Sugar
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla
- ½ teaspoon Almond Extract
- 1 Egg
- ⅓ Cup Non-Dairy Milk can substitute regular milk
- ½ teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
For the cookies
- Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Combine ⅓ C milk and apple cider vinegar. Stir and let sit while you prepare the remaining ingredients.⅓ Cup Non-Dairy Milk, ½ teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
- Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest in a medium bowl. Stir well until mixed.1 Cup + 2 tablespoon Gluten Free 1-to-1 Flour Blend, ½ teaspoon Baking Powder, ¼ teaspoon Baking Soda, ¼ teaspoon Salt, ½ teaspoon Lemon Zest
- Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium speed for 3 minutes until light in color and fluffy in texture. Scrape down the bowl.⅓ Cup Vegan Butter, ½ Cup Sugar
- Add the vanilla, almond extract and egg. Beat for another 60 seconds. Scrape down the bowl.1 teaspoon Vanilla, ½ teaspoon Almond Extract, 1 Egg
- Turn the mixer to the lowest setting. Add half of the flour mixture, followed by half of the soured milk. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Stir until just combined.
- Scoop batter into ¼ cupfuls and drop onto prepared baking sheet leaving 3-4 inches between each mound. The cookies will spread a good bit when baking.
- Bake in preheated oven for 13-14 minutes until edges are set. Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheet for 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack.
- Cool cookies completely before icing.
For the fondant icing
- Combine the powdered sugar, milk, corn syrup and vanilla in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth. Icing should be thin enough to spread, but thick enough to hold a ribbon briefly when drizzled into the bowl. Err on the side of too thick, as it is easy to add more liquid.1 ¾ Cup Powdered Sugar, 2 Tablespoon Non-Dairy Milk, 1 Tablespoon Light Corn Syrup, 1 teaspoon Vanilla
- Working one at a time, flip the cookies over and ice half of the bottom side of each cookie. Lay the half frosted cookies on a rack to dry. It will take about 20 minutes for the icing to dry to the touch.
- Cover the vanilla icing bowl while waiting for the cookies to dry to keep the fondant from drying out.
- Once the vanilla side has dried, add cocoa powder to the remaining vanilla icing. If it's too thick, add milk 1 teaspoon at a time to thin to desired consistency.2 Tablespoon Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
- Use a spatula to ice the second half of each cookie creating a line in the center. Allows cookies to dry completely before storing.
Tiffany is the recipe developer, stylist and food photographer behind Well Fed Baker. As a lifelong baker who had to go gluten free and dairy free in 2016, Tiffany strives to share allergen friendly recipes that never feel like they are free from anything.