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Half Moon Cookies – A Utica, NY Tradition

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Half moon cookies are upstate NY cookies frosted with half vanilla & half chocolate buttercream. Different from NYC Black & Whites because of the cake like texture and creamy frosting.
top view of half moon cookies

Half moon cookies are large, cake-like cookies frosted with half vanilla icing and half chocolate buttercream frosting. These are a classic dessert from Utica, NY. 

Growing up in the Utica area, these cookies are traditional favorites. They are available at almost any bakery or grocery store – or you can make your own homemade cookies, which is what my family does using our own half moon cookie recipe.

These fantastic cookies are enormous and are usually 3 inches in diameter and thick. Add on a generous layer of frosting, and you have a very rich and filling treat. Hemstrought’s Bakery in Utica originated these cookies in the 1920s and still makes them today, as does almost every bakery and grocery store in the area!

top view of iced half moon cookies

Looking for more recipes for classic upstate NY food? Check out my Utica Greens, Chicken Riggies, and Mushroom Stew recipes!

Half Moon Cookies or Black and Whites?

If you aren’t from upstate NY, you might think these are the same as New York City’s Black & White Cookies. While they look similar, since both are frosted with half chocolate and half vanilla icing, they are quite different.

  • Half Moon Cookie – This is a soft and fluffy cookie with a domed shape. It is frosted with buttercream frosting, just like a cake. Half Moon cookies are more like mini-cakes and less like cookies.
  • Black & White Cookie – This has a crisp, flat, shortbread-like cookie base. The icing is a glaze, so it hardens when it dries.

Chocolate or Vanilla Half Moon Cookies

These can be made with either a chocolate or a vanilla cookie base. My family has almost always made and bought ones with a vanilla base. I’m not sure why, but that is the tradition we grew up with!

This is the recipe we use, which comes originally from an old church cookbook. If you want a recipe with a chocolate base, check out the recipe from Hemstrought’s Bakery in Utica. I’ve made that one too, but I still like my family’s recipe better. 🙂

I modified this recipe, so it only makes 10-12 cookies which is plenty for one family. One half moon cookie is more than enough dessert. But you can double the recipe to feed a crowd.

frosted half moon cookies

Key Ingredients

For exact amounts needed see the recipe card below

Sour Cream – The sour cream adds a slight tanginess to the batter. 

Shortening – I have tried making these with butter, and they aren’t quite the same. They rise more with shortening and are softer. Since those are critical characteristics of half moon cookies, I stick with shortening.

The remaining ingredients are all baking staples, including sugar, eggs, baking powder, baking soda, salt, vanilla extract, and flour.

ingredients for vanilla half moon cookies

Frosting – Frost these with basic buttercream icing in chocolate and vanilla, made from powdered sugarbutter, and vanilla. I like to use dark chocolate cocoa powder in the icing to make it even more of a chocolate fudge frosting.

How to Make Half Moon Cookies

Prep

Line the baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. This keeps them from spreading too much as they cook. You can only fit 3 or 4 cookies on a baking sheet, so plan accordingly!

Mix

To make the batter combine the sour cream, shortening, and sugar in a large bowl. Use a mixer to blend on medium speed until creamy. Then add the egg and vanilla and mix well.

half moon cookie batter

Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Add these dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, half at a time, beating and scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. The batter will be thinner than most cookie dough but thicker than a cake batter.

Bake

Use a large cookie scoop, ice cream scoop, or 1/4 cup measuring cup to drop the batter on a prepared cookie sheet. Use a rubber spatula or a knife to spread the batter into rounds 2 1/2 – 3 inches in size. Leave room between the cookies since they will spread a bit.

cookies before baking

Bake them in a preheated 375 degrees F oven for 12 minutes. If you have more than one cookie sheet in the oven, swap the sheets’ locations on the oven racks after 6 minutes so they bake evenly. They are done when they look cooked in the middle and lightly brown on the bottom.

cookies after baking

Let the cookies cool on the tray for about 5 minutes before removing them to a wire rack to finish cooling. Since these are large, they are more fragile and need the extra time on the cookie sheets, or they might break.

Frosting the Cookies

Make the Icing

I always make the vanilla frosting first, take it out of the bowl, and reuse the bowl for the chocolate frosting. One less bowl to wash!

To make the frosting combine the butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt (along with cocoa powder for the chocolate frosting).

Mix it on medium-high speed until it is all combined. Then stir in whipping cream, a tablespoon at a time, until the frosting is spreadable. Thicker frosting makes it easier to keep the definition between the chocolate and vanilla sides.

Frost the Cookies

The crucial step in frosting half moon cookies is to flip them over. The frosting goes on the flat bottom of the cookie, not the domed part. Why? I have no idea. That is just how it is done!

spreading the frosting on the cookies

Use a frosting or off-set spatula to spread the vanilla frosting on half of the cookie, spreading to the edges of cookies. Then add chocolate frosting on the other half. I always add a thicker layer of chocolate frosting than vanilla because it is tastier!

How to Store

Once frosted, these should be stored in a single layer in an airtight container. They will keep at room temperature for 1-2 days or 3-4 in the refrigerator. Or, you can store them unfrosted at room temperature for 3-4 days. 

The icing will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks, so I prefer to store them unfrosted and only frost them as I am ready to serve them. This also allows my kids to slather on as much frosting as they like!

Similarly, the half moon cookies will freeze best if they are not iced. Freeze them on a baking tray in a single layer, then package them in an airtight container with layers of parchment paper.

half moon cookie broken apart

Tips for Making the Best Half Moon Cookies

Be sure to check out the step by step instructions

  • Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes.
  • Keep the consistency of the icing thick so that it is easier to make a clear division between the black and white icing.
  • Frost the flat bottoms of the cookies, not the domed tops.
  • These keep better unfrosted, so I suggest only frosting them as you serve them.

Check out potato chip cookies and ricotta cookies for more delicious homemade cookies.

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top view of half moon cookies
5 from 5 votes

Half Moon Cookie Recipe

Half moon cookies are upstate NY cookies frosted with half vanilla & half chocolate buttercream. Different from NYC Black & Whites because of the cake like texture and creamy frosting.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time12 mins
Frosting TIme10 mins
Total Time1 hr
Servings: 10
Print Pin Save

Ingredients
 

Cookie Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups flour

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1-2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Instructions

Make Cookies

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare cookie sheets by lining them with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
  • Combine the sour cream, shortening, and sugar in a mixer bowl. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.
    1/2 cup sour cream, 6 tablespoons shortening, 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Add the egg and vanilla and mix well.
    1 egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir to mix the dry ingredients.
    1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Add half of the flour mixture to the creamed mixture. Beat until just combined. Then add the remaining flour mixture and beat until it is mixed in. The batter will be thinner than most cookie dough but thicker than cake batter.
  • Drop about 1/4 cup of batter onto the prepared baking sheet. Use a spatula or knife to spread it into rounds about 2 1/2 to 3 inches in size. Leave space between the cookies. You will only be able to fit 3 or 4 cookies per sheet.
  • Bake them in a preheated oven for 12-15 minutes. Halfway through the baking time, pull the sheets out and change the position of the sheets on the oven racks. This will help ensure they bake evenly.
  • They are done when the middle is firm, and the bottoms are light brown.
  • Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 5 minutes. Then move them to a wire rack to finish cooling. Don’t frost them until they are completely cool.

Make Icing

    Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:

    • Combine the softened butter, vanilla, powdered sugar, and pinch of salt in a mixing bowl.
      1/2 cup unsalted butter, 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar, pinch salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • Whip it on high speed until light and creamy.
    • Add the heavy cream a tablespoon at a time until the frosting reaches a spreadable consistency.
      1-2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk

    Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:

    • Combine the softened butter, vanilla, powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl.
      1/2 cup unsalted butter, 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, pinch salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • Whip it on high speed until it is creamy.
    • Add the heavy cream a tablespoon at a time until the frosting reaches a spreadable consistency.
      1-2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk

    Frost

    • To frost the cookies, first, flip them upside down. The frosting goes on the flat bottoms of the cookies, not the domed tops.
    • Use a frosting spatula to spread half of the cookie with vanilla icing and the other half with chocolate. Most people put a thicker layer of chocolate frosting than vanilla on the cookies.

    Notes

    • You can substitute your favorite buttercream icing recipe or use store-bought frosting.
    • Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before removing them.
    • I like to use Dark Chocolate Cocoa powder for the chocolate frosting to make it fudgier.
    • Keep the consistency of the icing thick so that it is easier to make a clear division between the black and white icing.
    • Frost the flat bottoms of the cookies, not the domed tops.
    • Since buttercream frosting doesn’t harden, these store best before they are frosted. The unfrosted cookies keep at room temperature for 3-4 days. Frosted ones keep for 1 day at room temperature or 3-4 days if refrigerated. The frosting can be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks.

    As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

    Nutrition Information

    Calories: 545kcal | Carbohydrates: 67g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 30g | Saturated Fat: 16g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 75mg | Sodium: 128mg | Potassium: 125mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 51g | Vitamin A: 707IU | Vitamin C: 0.1mg | Calcium: 45mg | Iron: 1mg

    Nutrition facts are estimates.

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    half moon cookies after frosting with icing and milk in the background
    By on June 17th, 2022

    5 thoughts on “Half Moon Cookies – A Utica, NY Tradition”

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    2. 5 stars
      The kids had so much fun making these yesterday and we added googly eyes. I loved that this recipe was easy enough for kids!

      Reply

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