Thursday, March 24, 2016

This is a Halfmoon; This is a Black and White Cookie.

Sometimes I can be quite a cranky pedant. A few weeks ago I was scrolling through my facebook feed when I spied a link to one of those Buzzfeed quizzes. It was entitled -- "Can You Pass This Upstate New York Food Test?" I'm not one for these sorts of things but I had a minute so I gave it a go.

Scrolling through the quiz I came to the question, "What are these treats called?" There was a picture that was clearly of a Black and White Cookie. So I answered Black and White Cookie... I was told I was wrong and that this was a Halfmoon.

This is where the cranky pedant bit comes in. A black and white cookie is a black and white cookie, a halfmoon is a half-moon (you need only to consult the wiki). There is a difference. So I got angry. I am proud of Upstate/Central/Western/North Country/etc... food traditions (halfmoons are out of Central New York) and I have taken it upon myself to champion them. So I proceeded to harangue the author of the quiz...

Until he (@perpetua) replaced the offending picture of the black and white cookie with one of my own pictures of a proper Hemstrought's halfmoon.

I thought this a grand public service, but I think the matter warrants a little more discussion. I will do that below.

Whenever the halfmoon vs. black and white cookie debate comes up someone will invariably chime in with, "but lots of people use the terms interchangeably." I like to respond to this with a quote from one of my favorite Peep Show characters -- Super Hans.

So here is a side by side comparison of the two treats for clarity's sake.

I obtained my specimens at the Hannafords in Delaware Plaza in Delmar. Note that they sell both Hemstrought's half-moons and generic black and white cookies. Labeled correctly.

Black and White Cookies -

Half-Moons -

First we shall examine a black and white cookie. This is a creature of downstate/NYC/Long Island extraction. It is widely available throughout New York and has a few defining characteristics.

The vanilla/chocolate topping is a solid glaze or fondant sort of stuff. It is often almost crispy to the tooth.

The "cookie" part is a dense white/vanilla substance, often flavored with a bit of citrus.

I am not a fan of this particular cookie.

Now we have a glorious Hemstrought's Halfmoon. The vanilla/chocolate topping is composed of frosting. Note that the vanilla side is often higher than the chocolate at the center line.

The "cookie" part is not vanilla sponge. It is chocolate! A proper halfmoon has a chocolate base.

Take a bite of the halfmoon. It is delicious. Soft, yielding frosting and a cocoa punch from the cookie. No deviant crispy fondant and citrus scented garbage sponge.

This my friend is a halfmoon.

So maybe the terms aren't so "interchangeable," eh? In fact, my children (bless their hearts) reject black and white cookies outright. Halfmoons are one of their beloved treats. The cookies are two separate and distinct animals and I will point this out every single time it comes up.

I hope I have cleared this up for you.

Also, go home Hemstrough'ts. You are drunk. These particular halfmoons are weird.

Happy Easter!


  1. $8.69!?!?? For how many? Back when Hemstrought's was a chain of bakeries around the greater Utica area, halfmoons were around $6 for a dozen. They came in a white box, separated by waxed paper squares and sealed with string, lots of string. I frequented the North Utica shopping center location throughout my youth.

  2. That box has a dozen in it. I am sure the packaged Hannford ones are a pale shadow of a fresh cookie from the old bakery. But you have to work with what you have, right?

  3. Thank you. I have been trying to explain this to people forever.

  4. All of this is WRONG. Sorry but as a daughter of a baker I can enliven you on what a black & white cookie truly is. The cookie part is either vanilla or chocolate is a delicious cake consistency wonder. Whilst the topping is pure icing & not that fondant inedible crap. Yr welcome :)

    1. I don't know where you're from, but it's not upstate New York. Nobody, but NOBODY, says "whilst." I'm guessing you are of English (as in England) extraction and that your baker is, too.

  5. Sounds like a like you are one of those folks who use the terms interchangeably... What you describe sounds halfmoon-esque.

  6. No, you're wrong phairhead. As a 30 year resident of NYC, (Brooklyn to be exact, where there wasn't a bakery or bodega that didn't sell them) a black and white cookie is a vanilla cake-like cookie with chocolate and vanilla glaze (not a fondant, more of a softer royal icing consistency). They are never chocolate.
    And I'm a pastry chef if that matters. But I think the NYC thing gives more cred. ;)

    Either way, neither cookie is as good as a whoopie pie.

  7. As a Syracuse resident, who had more than her fair share of half moons, both in school and out, the base can be either chocolate or vanilla (I'm partial to the vanilla version) but which has a high frosted top, half dark, half white. Either way, they are made ONLY in Utica!

  8. We called the "Halfmoons" (from Hemstroughts in Utica) Half 'n Half Cookies and they definitely had a vanilla base version in the '80s (which I was partial to).


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