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Black and Blanco

Healthy vegan cookies pass our rigorous taste test

by Perrin Drumm in Food + Drink on 29 May 2012

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The Black and Blanco Sandcastle cookies are so rich and buttery, it's hard to believe there's actually no butter in them. There's also no wheat, refined sugars, trans fat, dairy, cholesterol, preservatives, eggs or GMOs. They're inspired by the traditional Morroccan sandie—a simple cookie made from white flour, white sugar, vegetable oil and salt—that Steve Blanco, the company's president, grew up eating. When Blanco's girlfriend, Heidi Karlsen, tried one for the first time and, he says, "literally freaked out at the goodness of it," the two set out to create a healthier version that was more in line with their lifestyle, and could be enjoyed by people with various food allergies. The Black and Blanco version is made from a base of whole grain rye flour, virgin coconut oil and evaporated cane juice, all of which are organic. "We specifically love eating rye for its wealth of health benefits and low gluten content," says Blanco. "It's a wonderful old grain. Ours is milled in upstate NY."

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The couple created the company after what Blanco describes as a low point in their lives. "Since our views and love of food were a big part of our connection we wanted to build something that would allow us to climb out of the dark times while contributing something nice to the world," says Blanco. Even though Karlsen has a background in baking and Blanco is a natural in the kitchen, they went through months of "rigorous R and D to arrive at the final Sandcastle," remembers Blanco. "Many months of trial and error and many thousands of cookies went into the trash. We've learned quite a bit along the way and I can say that baking with coconut oil is one hell of a challenge! The hardest part was getting a texture similar to the original, but sturdy enough to be a packaged cookie."

Black and Blanco currently sells three flavors, Maple Dusted Cardamom, Vanilla Black Sesame and Marzipan, and they have two more in the works—a dark chocolate variety and an absinthe and rosebud flavored homage to Citizen Kane. But before those come hot out of the oven we sat down to taste test the three flagship flavors with three very different cookie connoisseurs. Test Subject A is a health nut, B eats whatever tastes good without a thought to nutrition and C is somewhere in the middle.

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Maple Dusted Cardamom

A: It has a good crunch and density. Subtle maple flavor with a nice whiff of cardamom and pumpkin undertones. It tastes like something my grandmother would bake.
B: Crunchy and really yummy. It has a flavor that sneaks up on you.
C:You smell the cardamom before you taste it and get a salty finish. It's an unusual flavor combination. I like the spicy, smokey flavor.

Vanilla Black Sesame

A: Nice saltiness and nutty flavor, but very subtle vanilla. The simplest of the bunch.
B: Crunchy again and a bit plain.
C: Because it's so plain it might be good with a spread, maybe honey or chocolate.

Marzipan

A: Wow! Amazing almond flavor. It really does taste like marzipan in cookie form.
B: It's like the crunchy version of an almond pastry. Really good.
C: You can smell it before you bite into it. It's more fragrant and flavorful than the rest.

The clear winner was the Marzipan flavor, with Maple Dusted Cardamom as a very close second. In general, the testers liked the cookies with coffee and tea, and also found that they pair nicely with red wine. They also noted that rather than tasting like a healthy—AKA less satisfying—version of a butter-rich cookie, these flavors seem just as decadent.

Sandcastles are available for purchase from their site, NY Mouth or at selected stockists for $6 a box.

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