Cookie of the Month: Snazzing up the snickerdoodle

My first snickerdoodle was given to me by a primary schoolmate, not much older than I. The cookie was pale golden perfection, much like its baker,  who was, despite her young years, full of enviable poise, confidence and beauty (who later in high school became, of course, quite popular, a cheerleader and homecoming royalty). Her cookies were next level — likely from her experience with 4-H baking — perfect in size, shape and uniformity, soft, yet chewy, with just slightly crisp edges, salty and buttery and coated with just enough of a crust of cinnamon sugar.

Though I sought similar results from my early attempts at snickerdoodles, I was besieged with a (far) less-then-perfect result, mirroring my own lack of poise and confidence (I’m still waiting for my nerdy, awkward stage to pass). My snickerdoodle dough balls never seemed to spread out in the baking process and stayed in rounded lumps, refusing to blossom, even though they tasted fine. I followed what was considered a good recipe to the letter, even employing the mysterious and seldom used cream of tartar (which was a new one for me). But looking back, I can only believe that the deceptively simple snickerdoodle needs certain conditions  and attention to be a success, including the hands of a more assured baker.

Snickerdoodles are a classic cookie, well-worth seeking out and trying recipes to achieve the idyllic result. They belong in any and every cookie jar and are among my all-time favorite cookies. Snickerdoodle cookies, according to much of what I’ve read, are a 20th-century spinoff of an earlier (1800s) incarnation of something called “snipdoodles,” cinnamon-dusted cakes of Pennsylvania Dutch origin. Stella Parks, in her book BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.; 2017), suggests the “doodle” part of the name may translate from a. Word that meant “hurry,” and was applied to recipes for both the cakes and Cookes that snip- and snickerdoodle could be made quickly with a “‘hasty dusting’ of cinnamon sugar.”

Parks, whose cookbook is a treasure of an array of delightful treats, from homemade Fig Newtons to CrackerJacks, features a section on the snickerdoodle, offering a variety of baking options and new variation shakeups offering something for everyone, from creating larger cookies with more creating a vaster expande of  tender chewiness to smaller cookies highlighting crispier edges, and flavors that range from a Tahitian Coconut Snickerdoodle to Bacon-Bacon Snickerdoodles to even Banana Bread Snickerdoodles.

Iart of what makes a snickerdoodle’s texture successful is a blend of butter and shortening, but Parks takes this to a genius level by using coconut oil, similar in texture to shortening, but healthier and imparting more coconut flavor. 

The coconut oil, butter, sugar, baking powder (another key ingredient for snickerdoodles, allowing for that puffiness…no cream of tarter in this recipe), nutmeg, vanilla and coconut extracts are whipped together in a stand mixer. An egg is added, and then the flour is mixed in to make a soft dough.

I also took liberty to add about a third of a cup of unsweetened shredded coconut to bring in even more coconut flavor plus a little more chew to the texture.

Idecided to go with the large cookie format for these, filling a quarter-cup measuring cup with the soft dough and then forming the portions into balls.

The dough balls were then tossed into the fragrant vanilla-sugar.

The cookie dough balls were evenly distributed over a large parchment-lined cookie sheet.

I considered this next step pretty crucial (and sometimes missing) from snickerdoodle shaping — flattening the dough balls. Particularly for a large cookie like this, but also in general for helping the cookies have that flatter (and not lumpy) dimension. I used a measuring cup to do the job and ending up with some nice large, evenly (pretty much) flattened cookies that still had ample thickness.

Each cookie got an additional dusting of vanilla sugar. The cookies were baked, beginning at a higher temp for about six minutes, then the temp reduced for the rest of the baking.

The end result was a sheet full of stunning, fragrant, pale golden rounds. Irresistible, I tasted as soon as I could and relished in the just-right combination of chewy softness with that buttery flavor enhanced with vanilla and coconut.

As big as they were, they went fast, and I found myself wanting more. I made another batch and tried the smaller size. I kept all the vanilla and coconut elements, but this time, added that classic cinnamon to the vanilla sugar to roll the cookie dough balls in. The smaller size was no less ideal, with perfect tenderness and taste, the cinnamon ratcheting up the flavor nicely.

It would have been nice to succeed — in both poise and snickerdoodle cookie prowess — early, like my schoolmate.  But sometimes, it’s perfectly fine to come to these, and other things, just a little late.

You’ll find the basic recipe for these snickerdoodle cookies at https://www.seriouseats.com/new-fashioned-snickerdoodle-cookie-recipe

Blogger’s Notes: For the coconut variation, make the vanilla sugar by splitting and scraping the caviar of one vanilla bean into the sugar, mixing to distribute evenly. Add one teaspoon coconut extract and one-third cup shredded coconut when creaming the butter and sugar and other ingredients in the first steps of making the dough. 

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