easy desserts & recipes: snickerdoodles
I was initially going to write a post about the etymology of the word “cookie” and the history of cookies. With the amount of information available I decided to save that for another post (or two). What I’d like to talk about is more specific and it includes the snickerdoodle cookie and an ingredient used in the cookie: cream of tartar.
First, a little history about the snickerdoodle is in order. According to The Food Timeline, an excellent resource, the snickerdoodle’s history is not particularly clear as there is little physical evidence through primary sources that would prove much about the cookie’s history.
“Food historians tell us the history of small cakes/cookies/biscuits with snickerdoodle-type ingredients dates back to ancient Roman times. Small cakes of this sort were quite popular in Medieval Europe. In Medieval and Renaissance England, similar cookies were called jumbles. Germans often added more spices and dried fruits, in the gingerbread tradition. When Europeans settled in the New World they brought with them their culinary heritage and their recipes. We find plenty of recipes printed in 18th-19th century American cookbooks that would produce something quite like snickerdoodles, but they are called other names (jumbles, ginger cookies)” -The Food Timeline
The name “snickerdoodle” may be a more recent invention with little evidence of its origin. According to the Food Timeline there are a variety of theories regarding the name. According to Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Food Encyclopedia the name snickerdoodle was “proposed that it is of German origin derived from the word “schnecken”. This might make sense as some food historians believe the cookie is of Pennsylvania Dutch origin.
According to Sherry Yard in her cookbook The Secrets of Baking, Snickerdoodle is a character from a series of children’s stories that drove a peanut car. Snickerdoodle, the character, was the nephew of Yankee Doodle and Polly Wolly Doodle. Yard goes on to say that the recipe itself gives away its age as it uses cream of tartar and baking soda…leavening agents used before baking powder was available.
Despite the cookie’s ambiguous history (Who named the cookie, when the recipe was created is still unclear) and its simplicity, the snickerdoodle is interesting to me for it was one of the first recipes I used when I taught my children about kitchen chemistry.
It is common knowledge that baking and cooking are quite different in that baking requires attention to detail in a way that cooking does not. If you are making pasta sauce you can “eyeball” the ingredients and still end up with a fantastic sauce. If you are baking a cookie it would be unwise to estimate the amount of the ingredients. Baking is chemistry at work in the home and that means certain ingredients will cause chemical reactions that give the baked product its texture, taste and appearance.
The snickerdoodle recipe calls for the use of potassium bitartrate otherwise known as cream of tartar. Potassium bitartrate is formed in wine, through the reaction between the bitartrate ion, from tartaric acid and the potassium ion found in grapes, especially grape skins. Potassium bitartrate or cream of tartar is used to stabilize egg whites which increases their volume and tolerance for heat (meringues) and it is used in preventing sugar crystallization in syrups. It is also used as an acid which will activate baking soda.
Baking soda aka sodium bicarbonate or sodium hydrogen carbonate is a white solid (crystalline) but commonly seen as fine powder. The natural mineral form is nahcolite. We see the use of baking soda in cleaning products, toothpastes and medical solutions. Baking soda is actually an antacid (used to combat heartburn) which is why the use of cream of tartar, an acid is necessary for activation.
That is a lot of science for one simple little, but delicious, cookie! Video: Amy Cao of Amy Blogs Chow is adorable and fun. Watch the video to see how to make snickerdoodles. At the very end of the video one Amy says “They are a little bit salty”. Her guest says, “I was on dry. Sorry.” Her guest mixed the dry ingredients and if you do not measure carefully the baking soda will make your cookie taste a little salty (as well as the actual salt in the recipe).
Snickerdoodle (Recipe from Sherry Yard)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cream of tartar
¼ lb butter, cold and cut into pieces
¾ cup sugar, plus ¼ cup for dusting
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon, plus 1 tablespoon for dusting
1/8 tsp salt
1 ½ tsp vanilla
1 large egg at room temperature.
1. Sift together flour, baking soda and cream of tartar into a medium bowl.
2. Mix, using the paddle attachment on a standing mixer, the butter until pale yellow. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the ¾ cup sugar and 1 ½ tsp cinnamon, salt and vanilla. Cream on medium speed until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. Add the egg and beat on low until fully incorporated.
4. Add the flour mixture and beat until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
5. Remove the dough from the mixer, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
6. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
7. Combine the remaining ¼ cup sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon in a medium bowl.
8. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place 2 inches apart on lined baking sheet.
9. Bake one sheet at a time for 12-15 minutes or until cookie looks dry and feels firm. Remove from the oven. When cool enough remove from baking sheet to cooling rack. Serve when cool enough or wait at least 30 minutes and then store in an airtight container.
Sony P&S DSC-H50
Focal Length 5.2mm