30 minutes left.
Only one thing occupied my mind as my L train raced towards Union Square: black and white cookies. I'd been in New York City for a week and had yet to satisfy my craving. It was an atrocity.
"I always have a black and white cookie when I'm in the city." This trip couldn't be the exception. I got off at Union Square to transfer to the 4.
26 minutes left.
The train took a century to arrive. I'd be cutting this close. I still needed to buy my train ticket. And stop by Zaro's. All before boarding the 10:50 AM train to Connecticut.
If I missed this train, my parents would kill me.
15 minutes left.
I pushed through the subway crowds, ran up a flight of stairs, an escalator, another flight of stairs (how far underground were we?!), and entered Grand Central Terminal.
Buying my ticket first seemed wise (my priorities were in line). I found a ticket machine. The line was eight deep. I waited, as frustrated ticket buyers tapped and banged the touch-screen, dipped their credit cards multiple times, and took forever to accomplish anything.
6 minutes left. Time. Was. Crawling.
It was my turn. I bought my ticket and hauled ass across the grand concourse to Zaro's Bakery.
There was no line. WIN!
I bought three cookies, just because. The magic number. That's three cookies per half hour of train ride. I could handle it.
2 minutes left.
I made it to the train with 30 seconds to spare.
There were no seats left. I was sweaty. But I didn't care. I opened the wax-coated white paper bag, reached in, pulled out a beautiful, perfectly symmetrical black and white cookie, and took a bite.
It was bliss.
As someone who's slightly food-obsessed, I'll be the first to admit there's nothing all that special about black and white cookies. They're a niche pastry, enjoyed by a small but loyal fan base made up primarily of current-or-ex-New Yorkers. Despite their strong association with New York City, historians believe they originated in upstate New York (where they're actually called half moons) at a bakery called Hemstrought's.
Black and white cookies are large and round, made of a cookie/cake-like batter that's soft and just moist enough (it should almost melt in your mouth). It's topped with fondant: half vanilla, half chocolate. The vanilla is just shy of painfully sweet and the chocolate is creamy.
They're amazing because they're simple. Only two flavors hit your taste buds when you take a bite: chocolate and vanilla. The cookie-part, if made correctly, serves as a brilliant accessory for these icings.
Black and white cookies hold a special place in my heart-stomach not only for their flavor, but because I grew up with them. Every time my family went into the city for the day, my mom would purchase several for the train ride home. I've been eating them for as long as I can remember. I maintain a powerful association between the cookie and New York City. This is why they're worth nearly missing a train for.
Maybe my mom would have forgiven me given the circumstances. This obsession is her fault.
Occasionally I humor myself by trying black and white cookies here in Los Angeles, primarily at Jewish delis. The legendary Canter's Deli on Fairfax makes them. They're shit. I'm always let down. Black and white cookies, it seems, are just like bagels and pizza. They're not the same anywhere outside of New York City.
This all changed one morning in late June.
Back then, I spent my Sundays at Espresso Cielo on Main Street in Santa Monica. On this particular morning, their display case was, per usual, filled with muffins, croissants and other small pastries, but today was different. On a large, square, white plate in the center of the case sat a single black and white cookie. I was intrigued. The barista informed me they purchase their pastries from Hotcakes Bakes in Venice, and that this black and white cookie was the cookie to end all black and white cookies.
"That's a bold statement," I said, "but I'll give it a shot."
My mind was blown.
It was phenomenal. The texture of the cookie was just right. The chocolate and vanilla fondants were sweet and creamy. I was brought back to Zaro's at Grand Central, as I took bite after bite of this brilliant piece of pastry-workmanship I never thought I'd find in Los Angeles.
I had to force myself not to eat the whole thing in ten seconds.
I recently visited New York City for several days with a quest, among many other food related missions, of visiting Zabar's. Zabar's is a family-owned gourmet grocery store on the Upper West Side. I had heard great things.
They open at 8 AM. I walked in at 8:06. I found the bakery counter, waited in line, but as I scanned the sea of baked goods - rugelach, babka, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, a dozen kinds of bagels, and cakes - I noticed there were no black and white cookies. The man behind the counter was puzzled when I asked and after a beat, nonchalantly said to try the cafe, as he gestured towards the far end of the store.
I found the cafe. But again, there were no black and white cookies to be found. What the fuck. Okay. I'm not walking away this time.
The man behind this counter, again, looked confused when I inquired about the cookie I was on a quest for, as I gestured a large circle with my two hands. My heart sank. Apparently black and white cookies aren't top of mind for the staff. "Am I the only person who cares about these things?"
Then his face lit up. He said he'd check and see if they got any in.
He walked about two feet, reached under a counter, pulled out a large pastry box, and pried it open to reveal an ocean of large, plump black and white cookies.
"We usually wrap these up individually," he said. "Can I just give them to you in a bag?"
"Yeah that's fine," I said.
"How many you want?"
The magic number.