Like Any Town, USA, being from a small city in Northern New York means that a handful of “native to home” dishes saw regular rotation in our lunch sacks and at our dinner table. Jefferson County, NY favorites like Chicken & Biscuits, Half Hots, and Rye Boat each deserve praise in their own individual posts – posts that we’ll save for another time. For it was on a recent trip back home that I was reunited with an old friend whose impact on my life I’d nearly forgotten – the Half Moon Cookie.
Those who trek the streets of New York City know the Black & White Cookie with great ubiquity. Corner delis, street coffee carts, and the iconic white & orange banner of Junior’s restaurant all tempt the palate with the promise of harmonious bakery duality. For those unfamiliar, the Black & White cookie is a (traditionally) spongey shortbread vanilla cookie which, upon baking, is turned over, exposing the flat bottom side to a euphoric layering of one half chocolate and one half vanilla icings. While trends and tastes have pushed this true national treasure into experimental arenas of flavor manipulation like chocolate, carrot, and red velvet, I typically remain a steadfast purist. White cookie. Vanilla and chocolate icings. Done.
Being so many years transplanted from the farms of Northern New York to the concrete jungle of the Big Apple, a recent trip back home brought me to Holland Farms Bakery & Deli www.hollandfarms.com in Yorkville (just outside Utica), NY. A family-owned operation since 1955, Holland Farms smells like the kind of place where childhood memories are whipped up over Sunday morning boxes of doughnuts. The most special part of this visit for me, however, was the fact that Holland Farms lays claim upon Utica for having developed the Black & White Cookie, dubbing it instead with the name “Half Moon” (the reference being that the white part of the cookie is a moon at half visibility and the chocolate is the night sky). Passing by its billboard on the highway, my memory was jostled instantly as the sign’s illustrated proclamation of “Best Half Moons in Central New York” reminded me that the train snack I love so dearly in Manhattan had in fact been first introduced to me under the disguised name of “Half Moon” back home in upstate New York!
As my husband whipped the car a quick 180º into their parking lot, the engine was barely at idle before I was in line and drooling with nostalgic delight under the glow of halogen bakery case lighting. These clever guys & gals at Holland Farms hadn’t missed a beat – there were original & chocolate cookies; carrot cake and jelly-coconut moons; all vanillas and all chocolate and swirls and drizzles and…it was maddening! Deliciously, delightfully maddening! And I felt like a five-year-old again in the best way possible.
A half-dozen or so box of cookies in hand later (I had to try them all, of course…), I was practically gnawing through the tape securing the bakery box shut on my way back to the car. Needless to say, they were amazing. All of them.
Now one can get great cookies anywhere – especially in the heart of New York City. But the point of the story isn’t cookies. It’s that with all the hustle and bustle brought on by a life lived in Big City, USA, it’s the comforts of home that make us all feel safe, secure, and well-fed. For me, that comfort is a cookie that doesn’t make me choose sides. It lets me have my vanilla and my chocolate. It reminds me of a time when life was less complicated. It assures me that no matter where I may jump to, I’ll always have a place to land at home. And as Jerry Seinfeld iconically said of the New York-classic, “if we would only look to the cookie, then all of our problems would be solved.”
Bring some baked nostalgia into your kitchen with my buddy, Duff Goldman’s, Black and White Cookie recipe, courtesy of foodnetwork.com
Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has. Probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary team on Rachael’s daytime talk show, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day, and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest twEATs on Twitter at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickdecker.com.