As a rule, my mother kept me out of the kitchen while she was cooking. I can imagine why: I was obnoxious as heck. I put my fingers in everything and seemed to always be occupying the exact space she needed to be. She was serious when she cooked or baked, as she was when she did most things, and I think my presence disturbed her concentration. That’s why, when I was about 10 or 11 years old and she asked me to help her make snickerdoodles, I jumped at the rare chance. The memory of making snickerdoodles with my mom has been a lifelong warm spot in my heart.
Firstly, there’s the name: snickerdoodles. Is it not the finest of all the cookie names? Other cookies are boringly named after what they are: chocolate chip, oatmeal, peanut butter, molasses. Snickerdoodle is a delightful nonsense word, almost as much fun to say as the cookies are to eat. Their flavor is a pure cookie experience consisting mainly of flour, sugar, butter, vanilla and cinnamon – just the basics. Snickerdoodles remind us that sometimes the simplest things can be the most sublime.
Secondly, there’s the element of play. One doesn’t just plop these cookies onto the baking sheet, neither does one use fussy rolling pins and cookie-cutters. No, you get your hands right into the dough and roll it into balls of goodness, then you roll it again in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar to get that distinctive cinnamony coating. It’s primal, this sensory interaction with the dough. Let no utensil stand between you and your cookie creation.
But let’s not waste any more time on philosophical musings. Here’s the recipe:
Beat two sticks (1 cup) of softened butter until fluffy. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar and 1/4 teaspoon salt. (I like my snickerdoodles a little saltier so I added 1/2 teaspoon salt.) Beat until well combined, being sure to scrape the sides of the bowl regularly to incorporate everything. Beat in 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla. (I also like my snickerdoodle extra vanilla-y, so I used 1 tablespoon vanilla instead of 1 teaspoon.) Stir in 3 cups flour, a little at a time. Cover and chill for at least one hour; this will make the dough less sticky and easier to handle.
Next, preheat oven to 375 degrees and mix 1/4 cup sugar with 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon. Now, we play with our food! Reach your hand into the bowl and scoop out a little chunk of dough, enough to make a ball about 1 1/4 inches in diameter (although really, who’s measuring? Just eyeball it). Roll each dough ball in the cinnamon-sugar mixture, coating completely. Place 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until bottom just starts to turn brown. Remove and cool on a wire rack.
If you want to experiment, try these variations:
• Add 1/2 teaspoon almond or walnut extract along with the vanilla.
• Add 1/2 teaspoon orange extract along with a tablespoon of orange zest.
• Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cardamom to the sugar-cinnamon mixture, or 1/4 cup finely ground pecans or pistachios.
• Mix in 1 cup butterscotch chips, bittersweet chocolate chips or espresso morsels (yes, these are a real thing) after incorporating the flour.
• Roll the dough balls in a mixture of 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup crushed freeze-dried strawberries or raspberries.
Or simply enjoy the simple satisfaction of a classic ‘doodle, still warm from the oven.
Here’s some further food for thought: We’ve leaned hard on the humble cookie during the pandemic. Cookie sales in 2020 saw a marked spike as did enthusiasm for homemade varieties. We gave ourselves permission to indulge in sweet treats and creature comforts, and what is more wholesomely reassuring than a cookie and a glass of milk, except three cookies and two glasses of milk? To you cookie-nibblers, I say it’s OK. We did what we needed to make it through each day and we’ve still got some tough days to go. Maybe you don’t technically need cookies to survive, but they do help ease life’s harsher blows. They’re tiny edible tokens of love.
Even as I make my mom’s snickerdoodles, I’m thinking of my grandmother’s infamous chocolate chip cookies. She burnt them every time – not enough to make them inedible, but enough to give them blackened bottoms and a sort of charbroiled flavor. She always ate the most egregiously burnt cookies herself, claiming that she liked them. Eventually I sought out the darkest cookies as well, not wanting to miss out on this coveted taste sensation.
My point is, she cheerfully made lots of terrible cookies and we ate them just as cheerfully. The burnt bottoms didn’t deter us because we could still taste the love. So bake some cookies and be assured that even if they’re not a paragon of cookie perfection, they’ll serve as a reminder that even on the darkest days you can find sweetness. Just maybe disable your smoke alarms before you put them in the oven.
Monika Spykerman: 360-735-4556; email@example.com
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups flour
• Cinnamon coating
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon