Enjoy this comforting cookie for the holidays or every day.
One glance at my Spotify library and you’ll know I’m a lover of the classics. I take comfort in the familiar, whether we’re talking about music or food. Santana has staying power, as do snickerdoodles.
While I’m not sure how Carlos feels about this cookie, a brief discussion with my Facebook peeps revealed that snickerdoodles indeed have a place on the holiday cookie platter, although a few, including my colleague Barbara Gibbs Ostmann, questioned if these were a Christmas culinary item. I’ve known Barb for (muffling the number with my hand) years. Prior to her years as a travel writer (when I met her), she worked as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch food editor and was a founding member of the St. Louis Culinary Society.
So, I asked Barb how she would define a “Christmas cookie” and she replied it’s defined by family traditions. “But taking a broader view, I think of them as cookies that tend to be baked only at Christmastime. For example, the red and green dough, sprinkles and frostings, the shapes, the seasonal flavors.”
Having been to a few European Christkindl markets, Barb remembered examples of wonderful baked goodies in Germany only made during Christmas. “I think having them once a year makes them more special, as opposed to everyday favorites,” she said, adding that she enjoys snickerdoodles year-round.
Barb’s right in that many home bakers (myself included) unpack the cookie cutters, presses, sprinkles, and such during the holidays, but I also like including one or two of the classics on the platter because I think those also remind people of childhood. Even today I chuckle when Mom would set out the cookies and milk for Santa because the small assortment of four to six cookies included a decorated cutout; a couple “special cookies” such as lemon snowballs, Hungarian horns, or apricot bars; and always a chocolate chip cookie.
And similar to a chocolate chip cookie, I think a snickerdoodle is a hug wrapped in flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Especially this Christmas, we all could use an extra hug. But where did this yummy cookie with the funny name come from?
Most accounts seem to agree that these cookies are tied to the Amish communities of northern Indiana. Das Dutchman Essenhaus bakery indeed offers snickerdoodles (a dozen is about $13).
In her book, The Joy of Baking, Barbara Grunes notes these cinnamon sugar cookies have been around since the late 1800s, known earlier as snipdoodles. The origins of the goofy name seem a little fuzzy, though. According to the Joy of Cooking, the name might be a corruption of Schneckennudeln (translation, snail noodles), a German cinnamon roll. One thing we can agree on, snickerdoodles are just darn delicious, no matter what time of year they are baked and enjoyed.
Another reason to love these cookies is their ease of preparation. A short list of ingredients appeals to new and experienced bakers. Don’t omit the cream of tartar if you want a chewy, softer cookie. This ingredient gives the cookie its signature bite and tangy flavor and keeps the sugar from crystalizing into crunchiness (#bakingisscience).
Moving on to the next discussion topic: butter or shortening. The recipe below, from a little cookie book I bought in Hermann, Missouri, years ago, lists shortening for snickerdoodles, but you’ll also see many recipes that call for butter. I’ve even read an article that tested six variations of butter, shortening, and half butter/half shortening. Let’s not get too crazy, people.
The experts at King Arthur Baking say shortening will keep cookies from spreading because of the higher melting point. This, plus the cream of tartar, will make your snickerdoodles softer and more rounded. Now, if you simply don’t have shortening in your pantry but you have butter in the refrigerator, just chill the cookie dough for at least 10 minutes to help control the spread.
For a really fast kitchen hack, whip up a batch of snickerdoodles using Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix. I’ve made this recipe twice and found that the cookies were not so flat if I chilled the dough before forming the cookies. Each time, however, they were tender. Honestly, what got my attention was the chocolate inside the cookie.
Final hack for the day: Keep the snickerdoodles soft while storing them by adding a piece of bread to the container or the resealable bag. And if you'd like to dress up this old friend for the holidays, Barb suggests using tinted sugar.
So, there’s the snickerdoodle saga. Get reacquainted with this old friend and snuggle up by a fire with a cup of coffee or tea this winter.