Building your life around food (not for survival but pleasure) at times feels petty and frivolous. This past fall, my double life on twitter mirrored an internal conflict: as @sweetsnbitters I tweeted about Thanksgiving pie recipes all day long, while as @hannahrkirshner I obsessively followed news from Ferguson and cried about stories shared on #blacktwitter. What compels me to learn more and more about food is the opportunity to connect—to taste a culture, to explore a history, to express care and friendship—but it's easy to slip into treating food as just pop-entertainment.
Is there a meaningful way to address social issues using cooking (and not just the ones that have to do with farming)? A dinner party that raises money for charity is nice, but the connection is superficial at best. I celebrated Thanksgiving joyfully even as concurrent events in Fergusson and around the country weighed on my heart; togetherness and pleasure are important, and we can't just live our lives being sad about the worlds' atrocities. But the challenge of making work with meaning feels pressing.
Next weekend is Valentine's Day, and the Brooklyn book release party for The Case for Loving, Selina Alko and Sean Quall's childrens' book about the Supreme Court case that legalized and protected interracial marriage. Selina had the lovely idea to give away heart-shaped black and white cookies at the party. I'm thrilled that she asked me to bake them!
The Case For Loving is a bittersweet reminder that my own engagement to a Japanese man would have been improbable just seventy-some years ago when our country interned Asian American citizens, and even in the sixties when couples like the Lovings could be jailed in some states. I hope the story is precient of the impending Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage. Making these cookies is a small symbolic gesture, but its the kind of opportunity I was looking for—a little sweetness on Valentine's weekend, a recognition of how far we've come, and a reminder of the work we still have to do—together.
Recipe: Heart-Shaped Black and White Cookies
makes about 15 3–inch hearts
Black & White cookies are a New York classic, for which it's difficult to credit any particular source. I've borrowed this recipe from David Lebovitz, who in turn adapted it from a number of sources. My only significant contribution is a method for making them heart-shaped.
for the cookies:
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 Tablespoons whole milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- grated zest of 1/2 lemon, preferably organic
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
for the icing:
- 2 cups powdered sugar, more if needed
- 4 teaspoons light corn syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 Tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
you will also need:
- sturdy paper for making a stencil
- parchment paper
- 1 large pastry tip, and a pastry bag or large zip top bag
- two squeeze bottles, or 2 small pastry tips and bags
1. Make a template so the cookies will all be the same size. Cut a heart out of sturdy paper to use as a stencil. Keep in mind that the cookies will puff and spread: a tall narrow exaggerated heart stencil works best. Cut parchment to fit four cookie sheets (you may not use them all) Trace the stencil onto the parchment, leaving at least 2 inches between the widest part of each heart. Write "front" in the corner of each sheet so you can easily tell which side has ink on it. Flip the sheets over, and lay them on the pans, ink side down.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Make the batter. In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt; set aside. In another small bowl, mix together the milk, vanilla and lemon zest; set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer (or by hand) beat together the butter and sugar until evenly mixed and smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in half the flour mixture, then the milk mixture, then the rest of the flour.
4. Fit a large pastry bag—or zip top bag with its corner snipped—with a large pastry tip (I just use the fitting meant to hold fancy tips). Pipe the batter into the hearts on the parchment paper. Wet your finger and smooth out the tops of the piped cookies. Bake until just set and barely browned around the edges, about 14 minutes, rotating halfway through. Cool befor icing.
5. Make the icing. Whisk together the powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons of the corn syrup, the lemon juice, vanilla, and 3 Tablespoons water in a small bowl. Split half the icing into another small bowl. To the second bowl, add the cocoa powder and remaining 2 teaspoons of corn syrup. You want both icings the same consistency: thick, but soft enough to squeeze out a small pastry tip. Add a tiny bit of water or powdered sugar to each until they are the same perfect consistency.
6. Put each icing into a squeeze bottle, or bag fitted with a small decorative tip (about 1/8–inch is a good size opening). Flip all the cookies flat side up to ice. To ice the cookies, squeeze out an outline of black icing on one half, then loosely fill in the outline with squiggles or concentric circles. Use a butter knife to smooth out the icing. Repeat on the other half using the white icing.
7. Allow the icing to set for about an hour before wrapping the cookies in individual cellophane bags or storing in an airtight container. They keep well for 2 days at room temperature; by the third day they will be stale, but still tasty alongside a cup of coffee or tea.