"'There is white ice for sliding,' says Edna. 'There is black night for seeing stars. There is blue sea for hunting fish. But there must be something else.'" - A Penguin Story, Antionette Portis
We've been thinking and reading about penguins these past few weeks. As part of his animal unit at school, my six year old had to create an animal diorama and give a short oral presentation. He chose the penguin--which happens to be one of my both of my sons' favorite animals. So we have been enjoying a lot of books--fiction and non-fiction--about penguins.
One of the best of the bunch is A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis. In this book a penguin named Edna, tired of the white, black and blue sameness of her life in Antarctica, sets off on a journey to see if there is "something else." What she finds is a simple yet empowering discovery--one that inspires her to keep exploring, to see what else might be out there. I love the simple black, white and blue (and later another color but I won't give it away) illustrations in this book as they can serve as an introduction to talking about colors--specifically, the colors found in a place like Antarctica.
Oliver Jeffers' Lost and Found is another of our favorites. It's the story of a boy who finds a lost penguin and the journey they take to return him to his home. But...is the penguin really lost or is it the boy who needed finding? There is a tender and melancholy quality to this story and its illustrations but it is, ultimately, a happy story of friendship found and lost and found again. Oliver Jeffers is an author to watch; my boys adore his The Incredible Book-Eating Boy.
Of course, during our study of penguins we read plenty of factual information about penguins as well. My kids actually love the non-fiction section of our library, which stocks a dozen or so penguin books. One of our favorites from our personal collection is Penguins (Scholastic First Discovery). It's part of a series notable for its use of acetate overlays that add more depth to selected illustrations. It introduces a variety of penguin species and discusses specific eating, mating and lifestyle characteristics of a few specific species. In Seven Weeks on an Iceberg by Keith R. Potter (which seems to be out of print, but we found it in our local library) we learned why the black and white feathers of the penguin are specific adaptations that help it survive in its environment.
We made these cookies in honor of our black and white friends:
Black and White Cookies
Black and white cookies (sometimes called half moons) are most commonly found in New York. They are a cakey cookie frosted with white and black (chocolate) icing. They received their pop culture moment of fame in an episode of Seinfeld. I occasionally see them in places like Starbucks or the Nordstrom eBar but since going gluten-free I have been deprived of this occasional treat and my four year old has never had one. Until now! I modified some recipes to create a gluten-free version, though you can certainly use regular flours to make your cookies.
- 3/4 cup gluten-free all purpose baking flour
- 3/4 cup sweet rice flour
- 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
- pinch of salt
- pinch of baking soda
- 1/2 cup raw turbinado sugar
- 1.5 sticks of softened, unsalted butter
- 1 egg
- 1.5 tablespoons buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
(A note on the flours: I used Bob's Red Mill gluten-free all purpose baking flour and Mochiko sweet rice flour but there are many kinds of gluten-free flours you may wish to experiment with. If you don't want to make these using gluten-free flours--because let's be real, unless you or someone you'll be serving these to has a gluten sensitivity you probably aren't going out of your way to look for gluten-free flours and xanthan gum--simply use 1.5 cups of regular all purpose flour instead. If you do use regular flour you can omit the xanthan gum from the recipe. Xanthan gum is used as a binding agent in gluten-free baking since gluten-free flours lack the binding properties of gluten. It can be found in Whole Foods and many health food stores.)
1. Preheat the oven to 325* and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk together your dry ingredients--the flour(s), baking soda, salt and xanthan gum. Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the egg, buttermilk, vanilla and lemon juice and mix. With mixer on a slow speed, slowly add the dry ingredients until blended.
2. Scoop the dough onto baking sheets (I used an ice cream scoop). I was able to get a total of 12 cookies out of the recipe. Use the back of a spatula to flatten the dough. I didn't worry too much about making them perfectly round, although afterward my husband said we should have rolled them out and used a round cookie cutter. WARNING: If you are working with gluten-free flours, resist the temptation to taste the raw dough. Trust me. It will be vile and you will wonder why you are making these cookies in the first place and think that perhaps "gluten-free" is actually a synonym for "poison." Once it is cooked through it will taste fine--it's just another one of those mysteries associated with gluten-free baking (or the flours I chose to use).
3. Bake for 15 minutes.
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
- 5 tablespoons hot water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 ounces melted bittersweet chocolate
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
- a few drops of black food coloring (optional)
1. Wait until the cookies have cooled before you attempt to ice them. Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl. Add the extracts and corn syrup. Add the hot water, one tablespoon at a time, while stirring the icing with a spatula. When it is slightly runny it's ready to be used.
2. Melt the chocolate (I used the microwave). Divide half of the icing into a separate bowl. Mix in the melted chocolate and cocoa. Add a few drops of black food coloring if you want the chocolate icing to be a true black. Blend together. At this point the black icing may be too stiff to work with; I added a little more water and sugar and reheated it in the microwave until it reached the desired consistency.
3. Using a separate spatula for each icing, ice half of one side of the cookie with the white glaze. Do the same to the other side with the black icing. I iced my cookies over the sink to avoid drips on my counter. Set aside and repeat, until all cookies are iced. Let sit for a couple of hours until the icing has hardened.
The finished product:
You now have gorgeous (and tasty!) black and white cookies to enjoy while cuddled up with a good book about penguins!