Vanilla Half Moon Cookies are an iconic treat in upstate New York. They are big dome-shaped cookies with a cake-like texture. One side is frosted with a sweet vanilla frosting and the other half of the cookie is covered with a chocolate fudge frosting.
Why You Will Love This Recipe
Big, soft, and tender cookies: These cookies have a similar shape and texture to Whoopie Pie. They are almost like eating the top of a cupcake, just a little bit denser.
Thick and creamy frosting: Buttercream frosting is simple to make and the creamy texture is just perfect on top of these cookies!
Classic flavors: Half-moon cookies are simple cookies with the classic chocolate and vanilla flavors that everyone loves!
See the recipe card at the bottom of this post for the full list of ingredients, including measurements.
Shortening – Using shortening helps create a fluffy cake-like texture and helps the dome form. You can use softened butter instead of shortening, but the cookie will be flatter.
Buttermilk – Buttermilk gives a subtle tanginess to the cookie, adds moisture, and provides the acidity needed to activate the baking soda. If you do not have buttermilk, you can either substitute sour cream or make your own buttermilk substitute by adding one tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk.
Egg – Bring your egg to room temperature before using, as room temperature eggs incorporate with the other ingredients more fully, which results in a better cookie.
Cocoa Powder – Natural unsweetened cocoa powder or Dutch-processed cocoa powder can be used to make the chocolate icing.
What is a Vanilla Half Moon Cookie?
Half Moon Cookies are fluffy cake-like cookies that are domed on the bottom and frosted with vanilla buttercream on one half, and chocolate buttercream on the other.
They were invented by Harry Hemstrought in 1925 when he opened Hemstrought's Bakery in Utica, NY. It didn't take long for this cookie to become a beloved icon in the upstate New York community!
As a family, we have been exploring iconic dishes across the United States. Check out our New York dinner to discover more famous New York dishes that we love.
1. Whisk Dry Ingredients
- Mix up the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
2. Beat Wet Ingredients
- In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed.
- I like to use the paddle attachment of my stand mixer, but you can also use a hand mixer.
- Scrape the sides of the bowl and then add in the egg and vanilla extract.
3. Alternate Milk & Flour Mixture
- The flour mixture and the buttermilk are added in alternating steps to help the liquids be absorbed consistently in the batter.
- Be careful not to overmix the batter or the cookies will be dense.
- Use a large cookie scoop to portion the dough. If you do not have a cookie scoop then you can use a ¼ cup measuring cup.
- Smooth the dough into as perfect a circle as you can.
- Bake until the edges of the cookie turn golden brown.
- Cool completely before frosting.
- Divide the frosting ingredients evenly in two bowls, except for the cocoa powder which just goes in one bowl.
- Adjust the amount of milk to achieve your desired consistency.
- Frost half of the flat side of each cookie with vanilla icing. Then frost the other half chocolate.
- You can spread the frosting onto the cookies using an offset spatula, or you can pipe it on and then spread it to smooth it out.
- Use your finger to round any uneven parts of the dough. If it is not a circle going in then it will not be a circle coming out.
- The second batch may bake faster than the first, so check it a minute earlier.
- It may seem counter-intuitive, but the flat side of the cookie is the one that gets frosted and the domed side is on the bottom. (Unless you live in Boston, where for some inexplicable reason they frost the dome side.)
- Whether you are piping the frosting or spreading it, use care to not touch the other color with your equipment. Wipe your tool off frequently and make sure there is none of the other color of frosting on your tool, or it will cause streaks.
I recommend storing your half moon cookies unfrosted and waiting to frost them until just before serving. Keep them in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days.
You can freeze unfrosted half moons in a freezer bag or airtight container for up to 3 months. Thaw completely at room temperature before frosting.
Both the half-moon and black and white cookies are iconic New York cookies. The Half Moon cookie is more cake-like and domed with a buttercream frosting, whereas Black and White cookies have a more traditional cookie texture with glossy royal icing.
No, there is no need to refrigerate the dough! These cookies should be baked as soon as the batter is prepared.
More Cookie Recipes
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Vanilla Half Moon CookiesRecipe by:
- 1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour 227 grams
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup shortening 65 grams
- ¾ cup granulated sugar 150 grams
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ cup buttermilk 120 ml
- ½ cup salted butter 57 grams, softened and divided
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar 260 grams, divided
- 2 tablespoons milk divided
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract divided
- ¼ cup cocoa powder 25 grams
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
- Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon salt
- In a large mixing bowl, cream the shortening and sugar by beating on high speed with an electric mixer for 3 minutes.⅓ cup shortening, ¾ cup granulated sugar
- Scrape the sides, then add the egg and vanilla extract. Beat an additional minute.1 egg, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- With the mixer on low speed, alternate the buttermilk and flour, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl after each addition. First, add ⅓ of the milk, then half of the flour, repeat, and finish with the milk. The batter will have a similar consistency to muffin batter.½ cup buttermilk
- Portion 3 tablespoon scoops onto your prepared baking sheet with at least 2 inches between each scoop. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookie are just starting to brown. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.
- Place ¼ cup of softened butter into one large bowl, and the other ¼ cup of butter in a second similar-sized bowl. Place 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar in each bowl, and then add ¼ cup cocoa powder to one bowl.½ cup salted butter, 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, ¼ cup cocoa powder
- Start your mixer on low speed and gradually increase to high speed once the mixture is no longer powdery. Beat for 2-3 minutes. The butter and powdered sugar will become fluffy and the mixture with cocoa powder will be similar to playdough texture.
- Add 1 tablespoon of milk and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract to each bowl and beat for an additional minute. Add additional milk, if needed. The frosting should be thick but spreadable.2 tablespoons milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Frost the flat side of each cooled cookie, half with the vanilla frosting, and the remaining half with chocolate frosting.
- Use your finger to round any uneven parts of the dough to make sure it is a smooth circle before putting it in the oven.
- The second batch may bake faster than the first, so check it a minute earlier or use a new baking sheet.
- Store unfrosted cookies in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Frost before serving.
- Unfrosted cookies can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw completely at room temperature before adding the frosting.