When life gets challenging, I retreat to the kitchen and bake. I've been baking a mountain of confections and feeding our neighborhood since we found ourselves in the growing ranks of the suddenly unemployed two weeks ago. And whenever I listen to the news and hear some talking-head cheerfully report that the economy is improving, it merely means another baking flurry is about to commence.
Yesterday I decided to bake with purpose, tackling my holy grail of childhood memories: Snowflake Bakery's Half Moon cookie, which most people call black and white cookies.
Converting my Baking Hero Milt Ziegler's commercial recipe for the home kitchen took a certain amount of faith and a very competent geek who happens to have some spare time these days -- I mean, when you start with 15 pounds of cake flour, you have to do a lot of math to get it to fit in a home Kitchen-Aid mixer.
There I was, biting my lip, double checking my math with a calculator, hoping I was not making a mistake. From over my shoulder there was suddenly the sound of Pink Floyd's Money in the form of a tiny hum coming from the Geek. Math word problems give me hives and a headache, and my pencil paused, waiting in air. He let out a small but audible "ah ha," and I heard his footsteps receding to the kitchen. I followed.
A few moments later, reading glasses perched carefully on his nose, he squinted and leaned in to watch the numbers shifting in my test beaker filled with water -- I'd taken to using visual aids to help me out with the math -- and suddenly, he was dropping in whole eggs, one at a time. Rising up from that stooped over, back-aching bend, he grinned and said, "Two large eggs and a half cup of milk." I checked. He was right. One fancy spreadsheet later I had my recipe.
I've auditioned many black & white cookie recipes through the years trying to duplicate the Snowflake Half Moon Cookie memory from my childhood. Alas, not a single one came close. Until now. My adaptation of Uncle Milt's Half Moon recipe is the best version I've ever made, and, well, it helps that it's the original recipe of the cookie I had as a kid.
There isn't a week that goes by that I don't pass a bakery in my neighborhood and wish it were Snowflake. After a story I wrote on the bakery appeared in Salon's Food page, a Facebook group, Snowflake Bakery Memories, was created by Milt's son, Jeff. After just a couple of weeks almost 250 people have joined the group. Almost everyone wistfully remembers the fabulous Half Moon cookies.
The Facebook page is the closest we will get to Snowflake Bakery these days, but with Milt's generosity, now we can have a home version of the popular Half Moon cookie. Go ahead. Close your eyes when you take that first bite. It will take you all the way back to our wonderful Snowflake Bakery days.
- 2 oz. unsalted butter, softened
- 2 oz. Crisco shortening
- 1 cup white sugar
- 2 eggs (mixed well)
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla
- 1/8 teaspoon pure lemon flavoring
- Splash of fiori di sicilia (optional but seriously worth it)
- 2 1/2 cups cake flour (gluten free flour, add 1/2 tspn xanthan gum)
- 1 scant tablespoon baking powder
- Pinch salt
- 1/2 cup whole milk (plus a tablespoon if needed)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silpats. Makes half a dozen, 5 inch Half Moon cookies.
- Mix together flour, baking powder, salt (xanthan gum) and set aside. In stand mixer, cream butter, shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add mixed eggs and incorporate well. Add flavorings. Alternately mix in flour mixture and milk. Beat on high just until incorporated and fluffy. Add a tiny bit more milk if the batter seems too stiff. You want the batter to be sturdier than cupcake batter, but not like cookie dough.
- Scoop by half cups, five mounds to a baking sheet, well spaced. Using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon, flatten the mound into a 4.5' to 5" circle until it actually looks like a Half Moon/Black & White cookie. They will spread slightly, but not much.
- Bake about 8 minutes and rotate pans. Bake about 10 minutes more until lightly golden. Cool completely.
- Sift the sugar into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of hot water and stir until the mixture is a spreadable glaze. Add the flavorings and let set for about 30 seconds. Spoon onto one half of the flat side of the cookie. Using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon, spread the glaze thinly to the edges. Let set while finishing up the others.
- Add the sifted cocoa to the remaining glaze and more water if necessary. Using the same method finish the glaze on the other half of the cookie.
- Let set about an hour until hard.
- Once scooped, you have to spread the batter to the diameter just under what you want for the cookie size. Don't worry about it being too thin. They rise. Don't over bake because they will get crispy. Half Moons should be soft.
- The glaze can get runny if you add even a tiny bit too much liquid. To remedy that, add more sugar. You want it thin, but not liquidy. It is easier to do the white glaze first and then the chocolate. Just be cautious to not hold the cookie over the others while spreading the chocolate glaze or you might spill it onto the other white glazed halves.
- I cannot emphasize enough the addition of fiori di sicilia flavoring from King Arthur. A tiny bit goes a long way and makes your pastry smell and taste like it came from the pastry shop, or in this case, from Snowflake Bakery. It is an enhancement that will make you swoon. I promise.
Bon appétit and thank you to celebrity baking hero, Uncle Milt!