I’ve lived in a few places around the US now and one thing I searched for in every location is a reasonable facsimile of the best bakery cookie that I ever ate. It’s one that I grew up with in Central New York. All I have ever been able to find are those little cellophaned vanilla cookie packages you find at deli checkout counters. You know, the ones with the chocolate/vanilla glaze, called Half & Halfs? Well, they are just a poor imitation of what I have sought.
The wonderful confection I remember from my childhood was a rich chocolate cake-like cookie covered with half vanilla and half chocolate buttercream frosting (my sweet tooth knows no bounds), called Half Moons. It was such a fond memory going to Hemstrought’s Bakery in Utica to get rolls for my mother and to be rewarded with a big Half Moon cookie for my efforts. But now, this beautiful cookie has been turned into a dumbed down, dry, crackly, mass-produced version sold in two-packs.
Isn’t it funny that like so much else in life, when we think a search is futile or a problem is unsolvable, the answer is ever so simple? It reveals itself with an elegant “aha” moment (followed by the inevitable forehead slap of “DUH!”). Could there be anything on the Internet about them? Are there any other Central New Yorkers reminiscing about Half Moons? Is there someone out there making a similar version? And voila, I’m not alone. There’s quite a conversation going on. Fellow Half Moon aficionados have cited several sources for the next best thing in bakeries around the country, some in Brooklyn and Manhattan—less than an hour away! Oh boy!
And then, there it was, right there before my eyes. Credited to Hemstrought’s, the very bakery that started it all, a recipe for my beloved cookie. In March 1999, Saveur Magazine did an article on Hemstrought’s and my hometown bakery graciously revealed its recipe to them.
Originally for 2,400 cookies, Saveur pared the recipe down to approximately 30. After a couple of trials, I found I needed to adjust the amount of flour upward a bit (the dough was a little thin), as well as the baking soda (the first ones came out a little flat). Try them and see what you think. No matter with whom I’ve shared them, the answer is always the same… When are you baking these again???
Half Moon Cookies
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.
--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.
Saveur Magazine, March 1999