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February 16, 2010

Cake flour (Recipe: black and white cookies)

Black and white cookies

In the house where I grew up, the kitchen had an oven mounted on the wall, so high up that I couldn't reach the handle to open the door until I was eight years old.

My mother wasn't tall, either, and I remember her hefting all sorts of things into and out of the oven. Chickens, turkeys, fish, meatloaf, pots of this and pans of that, but not one single cake went in, or came out.

Not one.

Is it any wonder that I never heard of cake flour?

Made from soft wheat flour, cake flour has a much lower protein count (6-8%) than all-purpose flour (10-12%), which is made from a blend of hard and soft wheat. Most cake flour is treated with dry bleach and chlorine gas, which change the nature of the wheat starch, allowing it to absorb more liquid. Bleaching also makes the flour more acidic, ensuring that the starch sets more quickly, which means that foods made with cake flour will be lighter than those made with all-purpose flour.

Cake flour

Until last year, all cake flour on the market was bleached, but King Arthur Flour now offers unbleached cake flour, with no added chemicals. A blend of wheat flour, malted barley flour, and unmodified cornstarch, it sells for $4.50 for a two-pound box.

You can make your own cake flour; for every one cup of sifted cake flour, substitute approximately 3/4 cup sifted bleached all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Note that this really is an approximation. If you want a consistent product, buy commercially produced cake flour. (You can make your own gluten-free cake flour, too.)

Use cake flour to make red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, coconut lime cake, angel food cake, sour cream coffee cake, lemon olive oil cake, or a savory beef goulash with dumplings.

Brown and black cookies 

Black and white cookies with royal icing

You're right. These cookies aren't black and white, like the cookies we used to get in New York when I was growing up. They're not, but they could be. The cookie recipe comes straight from the Lower East Side, from The Veselka Cookbook, by Tom Birchard with Natalie Danford. Real "black and whites" are covered with fondant, but I had leftover Royal icing, so that's what I used. It worked well and tasted better than fondant, even if my color selection was a bit limited. Makes 18 large, cake-like cookies.

Ingredients

1-3/4 cups sugar
16 Tbsp (8 oz) vegetable shortening
6 large eggs
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
6 cups cake flour
1 Tbsp plus 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk (I used skim milk; use whatever you have on hand)
1 batch of Drop In & Decorate Royal icing

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line three cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, cream together the sugar and shortening on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.

Add one-third of the flour mixture to the mixer and beat to combine; then add one-third of the milk and beat to combine. Continue to alternate with two more additions beating smooth between each addition, until the flour mixture and milk have been incorporated. 

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a round piping tip (or a ziploc bag with one corner snipped off), and pipe cookies about 2 inches in diameter onto the prepared cookie sheets. Wet your finger with water, and press down the center of each cookie to flatten the little point that sticks up from the piping.

Place cookie sheets in the oven and reduce the temperature to 350°F. Bake cookies for 5 minutes at 350°F, then reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Bake until the bottoms of the cookies are golden and the tops are firm, 12-15 minutes.

Slide the parchment paper with the cookies to racks, and allow the cookies to cool completely.

Divide the icing in half, and mix each half with a different color (black and white, blue and green, red and pink, whatever you wish). Place each color into a plastic squeeze bottle or ziploc bag with one corner snipped, and decorate the cookies as in the photos.


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Spice cake
Spice snap cookies
Honey gingerbread cookies
Sugar-free chocolate cupcakes

Comments

Me too! My mother is a good cook, but nary a single lonely cake did I ever see come out of her oven - we always had ice-cream cakes for birthdays. I survived though, after a lot of therapy ;P

If I made cookies like this I think I wouldn't be able to resist making the icing in a yin/yang shape!

I'm glad those cookies aren't black and white, then I would have to hate them as they'd remind me of a rival football club's colours! But like that, I can love them, they look really delicious.

I have cake flour that's probably been in my pantry for 10 years. That's how often I bake a cake.

What pretty cookies!

I love my chocolate chip cookies soft and tender, so I often use cake flour instead of AP to help get the texture I like.

My mom baked other kinds of cakes, but never felt she could make a pound cake worth eating. She would take butter, eggs, and sugar to our neighbor a few houses up the street and ask her to make the pound cake. This was the neighbor that couldn't get jello to jell but she made delicious pound cakes!

I haven't ever used cake flour, very informative post thanks!

Cake flour definitely does wonders for baked goods. I used it to make red velvet cupcakes the other day and they were the fluffiest things I have ever made. It was crazy.

Love these cookies!

I appreciate cake flour. Great post! The cookies look wonderful!

So, the story about your stove and growing up does shed some light on your baking issues ... :-)

Those turned out beautiful!

Those look gorgeous!

Black and Whites are usually covered in fondant? I had no idea! I love the coating on them. LOVE. And I am excited to dig out the box of cake flour from the rear of my pantry and try these at home. Mmm!

Sasa, I survived, too -- I learned how to shop for cakes!

Kalyn, I did decorate some with patterns, but the straight-down-the-middle half and half icing is the traditional b&w way.

Neil, I hope there's a team with these colors that you like! I think they'd be great uniform colors.

Pam, maybe, just maybe, it's time to set that cake flour free (as in, toss it out!).

Deena, thank you. And they were tasty, too.

Janel, the only chocolate chip cookies we make are the Toll House cookies, with the instructions on the package. I wouldn't dare mess with the recipe.

Teresa, I guess these days we'd call your neighbor the pound cake whisperer. Some people just have the knack.

Katerina, I don't use it often, but I do keep some in the pantry.

Joanne, I've never made red velvet cake. Does it always call for cake flour?

Maria, Noble Pig, Radhika: thank you so much.

TW, yes indeed, the baking issues are longstanding. Don't know if I'll ever get over my bake-o-phobia, despite all of the cookies I bake for donation.

Sarah, I had no idea, either, until I read the recipe in the Veselka book. It's such a traditional restaurant that I knew the recipe for the black-and-whites would be authentic. But I couldn't resist using the much easier royal icing.

My mother and both of my grandmothers did a lot of baking and they all used cake flour. It’s what I keep on hand for my cake making. Pound cakes were my Memaw’s specialty and she’d make them for holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. There would be dozens of them all over her kitchen as she always made enough to give to family, friends, church members and visitor’s who just happened to drop in. This grandmother also used cake flour to make her fried chicken, saying it made it crunchier. All I know is that her cakes… and fried chicken… were out of this world delicious!

Well, I like the color choices on these cookies!! Beautiful!!

I just bought the new KA unbleached cake flour and used it in a red velvet cake. The texture was perfect, but I messed up on the frosting (not the cake flour's fault, of course! haha).

They are such pretty cookies! I've not heard of unbleached cake flour, and it does sound like a much healthier choice!

The description of your high oven brought back so many memories for me. When we first moved in to our historic home, there was an oven mounted high up on the wall. I'm not short, but I needed a step-stool to get anything in and out of that oven, and I just about scorched my armpits every time. It made baking anything in a water bath hazardous to my health. I love reading your blog!

I wonder if the equivalent of cake flour (for gluten-free baking) would be simply cornstarch? As always, your cookies (and photographs) are firing up my sweet tooth. Beautiful frosting- so elegant. Very Mad Men, somehow. ;-)

I can never seem to pass up black & white cookies when I see them in a bakery case! Wonder if I have the will power to make them at home :-)

Elle, I love the idea of using cake flour for fried chicken. Definitely will have to try that.

Memoria, I haven't used the KA flour yet, but thanks for the thumbs-up.

Noobcook,see Memoria's feedback, above. I love the idea of not using a bleached flour.

PunkRizz, thanks for that image -- I wonder who designed those older kitchens? Must have been very tall people!

Karina, I don't know enough about cornstarch to know if you can substitute. Please let me know if you try it. And... Mad Men, eh? I love that.

Kathy, they are dangerous to have around. Do what I did: invite some friends to help eat them right away!

I'm glad you included how to make my own cake flour. I have a couple of recipes that call for cake flour but I can't find them in my neighborhood. Nice cookies. ;-)

Paz

They are Black & Tans....perfect for St. Paddy's Day! :)

Bleaching also makes the flour more acidic, ensuring that the starch sets more quickly, which means that foods made with cake flour will be lighter than those made with all-purpose flour.

What a combination. I am very impressed your blog. Black And White Cookies totally fabulous. Thanks.

Truly a great artistic sort of cookie to serve with tea, not tried it before but may it be the cookie of this weekend.

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