Hemstrought Bakery Half Moon Cookies
Source of Recipe
Posted By: Sonia
When the black-and-white cookie, that staple of bakery and deli counters throughout New York City's five boroughs, was immortalized in episode 74 of Seinfeld, it was not a compliment: The cookie in question was so stale—typical!—that it gave Jerry indigestion.
He would have found a far better black-and-white at Hemstrought's Bakeries, 250 miles northwest of the Big Apple, where it's called the halfmoon. This wonderful pastry orb has been around since the 1920s, when Harry Hemstrought, a former architect, opened a small bakery on Columbia Street in Utica, New York.
What makes a halfmoon superior to its downstate cousin? First, it's fresh. Every day, the folks at Hemstrought's bake 12,000 of these inverted drop cakes. Then there's the flavor: Each cookie is a sphere of soft, chewy chocolate, a vast improvement on the often tired vanilla-cookie version in Gotham. Finally, there's the double-thick icing—half fudge, half vanilla. According to Hemstrought co-owner Tom Batters (that's his real name), the bakery still uses the original recipe, passed down from Harry's son, Robert.
Halfmoons are mixed from scratch in a 40-quart mixer, piped onto baking sheets, popped into the ovens, and then hand-iced by a crack team of spatula-wielding ladies on the bakery's afternoon shift. This sounds pretty basic, but there's a real art to applying the fudge icing to half of each cookie, then smoothing the buttercream onto the other half to create a perfect straight line down the middle. It's easy to smudge, and novices tend to skimp on the icing. Asked how long it takes to master the trick, Batters sighs, ''Some people never learn. But usually about a week.''
Utica residents are fiercely loyal to their local bakery, which has nine retail shops throughout the surrounding Mohawk Valley and concessions in most of the region's supermarkets. The cookies show up regularly at church suppers, hospital bedsides, and out-of-state college dorms populated by homesick freshmen. For her wedding day, one ardent customer even ordered a five-tiered halfmoon cake—enough for 250 guests.
The question of which side to eat first—chocolate or vanilla—is hotly debated. Robert Hemstrought himself, still eating halfmoons after 72 years, has a diplomatic solution: ''I bite it right down the middle.''
Hemstrought's Bakery will ship frozen halfmoon cookies by mail (59 cents each, plus shipping). Or, stop by for a fresh cookie the next time you're in New York State's Mohawk Valley (900 Oswego Street, Utica, NY 13502; 315/735-3311).
This article was first published in Saveur in March 1999.
Hemstrought’s Bakery generously shared its recipe with us, but we had to adapt the quantities: The original makes 2,400 cookies! This makes about 30
List of Ingredients
FOR THE COOKIES:
3 3/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
2 1/4 cup sugar
16 tbsp. margarine, cut into pieces
3/4 cup cocoa, sifted
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups milk
FOR THE FUDGE ICING:
3 1/2 oz. bittersweet chocolate
3 1/2 oz. semisweet chocolate
1 tbsp. butter
4 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tbsp. corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
FOR THE BUTTERCREAM ICING:
7 cups confectioners’ sugar
16 tbsp. room temperature butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
7 tbsp. milk
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1. For the cookies: Preheat oven to 350°. Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside. Put sugar, margarine, cocoa, and salt in bowl of standing mixer and beat on medium speed until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and continue to beat. Add half the milk, then half the flour mixture, beating after each addition until smooth; repeat with remaining milk and flour mixture. Spoon or pipe batter onto parchment-lined baking sheets, making 3'' rounds 2'' apart. Bake until cookies are set, about 12 minutes. Allow to cool, then remove from parchment.
2. For the fudge icing: Melt bittersweet and semisweet chocolates and butter in the top of a double boiler over simmering water over medium heat. Add confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, salt, and 6 tbsp. boiling water and mix to a smooth, stiff paste with a rubber spatula. Thin icing with up to 8 tbsp. more boiling water. Icing should fall from a spoon in thick ribbons. Keep icing warm in a double boiler over low heat.
3. For the buttercream icing: Put sugar, butter, shortening, milk, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer. Beat on low speed to mix, then increase to medium and beat until light and fluffy.
4. Using a metal spatula, spread about 1 tbsp. of warm fudge icing on half of the flat side of each cookie. Spread the other half of each cookie with 1 heaping tbsp. buttercream icing.