A very, very long time ago I took a very, very short trip to the big apple. New York City. It was back when I believed with every part of my young, naive, big-dreaming heart that I would be a stage actress on Broadway. I was a sophomore in high school with total tunnel vision and I lived and breathed for everything theater. I was good, too. Really good. And I was convinced that my life would always revolve around acting. Funny how things change.
At the end of my first semester as a theater major at UT my acting professor had private meetings with each student to talk about their progress and potential. I can’t remember his exact wording, but it was something to this effect: “You’re good, but you’re very sweet and it will be hard for you to get many parts.” And my young, naive, big-dreaming heart broke into about a thousand pieces. The sweet part was true enough. I’ve always been a wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve kind of girl. It can make something that’s as subjective as acting difficult when the results aren’t what you had hoped for. But it also gives you a deeper wealth of emotion to draw from. It was what fueled my acting. The second part, though – the not getting many parts thing – I knew exactly what he was talking about. I had been feeling it, myself. I didn’t need anybody to tell me I didn’t look the part. All it took was one glance around the theater building to know I was out of my league. And instead of rising up and believing in myself and going after something that I wanted and deserved, I totally crumbled. Switched majors by the end of the next year. I will regret it for the rest of my life, but for the rest of my life I will be grateful for that regret. Does that make sense to anyone besides me?
Here’s what I mean: Regretting my decision to quit acting has taught me the biggest lesson of my life. It taught me that fear and uncertainty are never good reasons to quit something. They’re never worth it. Being safe for the sake of not getting your heart broken never works. In the end you just break your own heart. I’d rather put it all out there, do everything in my power to make my dreams come true and have it fail miserably, than always wonder what might’ve happened had I tried. And so, in that regard, my regret does a vanishing act. Because how can you regret something that has taught you so much? If I had never known real regret I might still be letting fear choose my paths for me. I might never have pursued something as uncertain as baking. And if I had pursued it, I definitely wouldn’t have been as adamant as I have about being in a position I love. I would’ve taken the safest route possible. No risks, and definitely no rewards. I owe my short-lived amateur acting career a whole lot, as it turns out.
To say thank you to the city that held my heart and my dreams for so long, I decided to bake cookies. Because that’s what I do when I want to express my appreciation for anyone or anything. Baking is my love language. These cookies are special because, for some crazy reason that I can’t for the life of me figure out, they’re only popular in New York. WHY AREN’T THESE POPULAR EVERYWHERE?! So I’m bringing them, in all their cakey deliciousness, to Texas. It was bound to happen eventually. Black and white cookies are an amazing cross between cake and cookie. They’ll make you smile, but you won’t quite understand why. I’ll tell you. It’s the lemon zest. Because when vanilla and lemon meet chocolate it’s the most surprising and delightful experience maybe ever, not unlike walking the streets of Manhattan for the first time. Good feelings x 1,000.
confession: i ate a minimum of three spoon-fulls of batter. minimum.
Black and White Cookies
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 1/2 cups cake flour**
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
**If you don’t have cake flour on hand and don’t want to brave the crowds at HEB you can just double your all-purpose. However, I find the texture is better with the cake flour. Softer and fluffier is always better.
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 to 1/2 cup milk
3 ounces very bitter or unsweetened chocolate
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch processed is best)
Yield: ~3-4 doz large cookies
confession: i ate a minimum of three spoon-fulls of frosting. minimum.
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 2 baking sheets with nonstick spray, or line with parchment paper.
2. In large mixing bowl combine sugar and butter and cream until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition. With mixer on low slowly pour in milk and mix until smooth. It might curdle at this stage. Don’t freak out. It’s totally not a big deal. Everything will get smoothed out when we add in our dry ingredients. Add in vanilla and lemon zest and mix to incorporate. Scrape down bowl.
3. In medium bowl, combine cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Stir until mixed. Add dry mixture to the wet in 2 batches, mixing well after each addition. Using a soup spoon or a large ice cream scoop, place heaping spoonfuls of the dough 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake until edges begin to brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool completely.
4. Meanwhile, make the icing. Place confectioners’ sugar in large bowl. Gradually stir in enough milk (a tablespoon at a time!) to make a thick, spreadable mixture. TABLESPOON AT A TIME! A too-thin icing is hard to undo.
5. Spread icing on half of the flat side of each cookie. Once all cookie halves have been frosted, place the bowl of the remaining icing over a pot of simmering water (creating a double-boiler) to bring it back to consistency and give it enough heat to melt the chocolate. Stir in the bitter or unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder until melted, as well as the light corn syrup.
6. Ice the remaining half of the cookies. The chocolate icing is prone to getting too dry, so don’t worry about whisking in an extra teaspoon of hot tap water from time to time to smooth it out.
7. Let the icing set and store in an airtight container. These cookies keep for a few days, but they’re best on the first or second. Because of the cake nature of the bases, they can get stale quickly. Not that they’ll stick around long enough to find out.
I still miss acting every now and then. It was my first real love, after all. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll give it a shot again in the form of community theater. For now, though, it sits in a far corner of my mind, a bittersweet reminder that I’m the only one who has the power to chase my dreams. A beautiful past that led me to where I am and taught me an invaluable lesson in the process. The good and bad will forever sit side by side in my heart – just like the top of a black and white cookie – a most surprising and delightful experience.