These Cookies Just Need to Chill

First, I apologize for the errors in last week’s recipe for
snickerdoodles. In the ingredients list, I omitted the 2 3/4 cups
flour and 2 teaspoons cream of tartar.
First, I apologize for the errors in last week’s recipe for snickerdoodles. In the ingredients list, I omitted the 2 3/4 cups flour and 2 teaspoons cream of tartar. Many thanks to those of you who caught my mistake and asked for clarification.

You were also generous with suggestions on how to make snickerdoodles work. Most of the ingredients (including the flour and cream of tartar I forgot) were the same. People used various combinations of shortening and butter or margarine.

When I told Angie, the head teller at Wells Fargo in Morgan Hill, about my problem, her response was swift: “Did you chill your dough?” No, I replied, I did not.

She assured me that this was the key to perfect snickerdoodle texture. She grew up in a baking family and they always chilled snickerdoodle dough before baking.

A couple of the people who E-mailed me mentioned chilling the dough, but not all.

Brenda Weatherly of the Hollister Downtown Association sent me a reprint from “Best Recipes” by the editors of Cooks Illustrated Magazine.

If you are familiar with Cooks Illustrated, or with the related TV show, America’s Test Kitchen, you know they test and try different variations and ingredients to determine what really works. So I was very hopeful when I got this recipe.

They had researched the questions of baking soda plus cream of tartar vs. baking powder, and shortening vs. butter.

Regarding the leavening agent, they determined that the baking soda was necessary for the distinctive tang of a snickerdoodle, which I realized was part of its appeal, and that the soda plus cream of tartar combination provided the rising then slight collapsing that creates the snickerdoodle’s characteristic crinkly top.

I thought, though, that my problem is excessive collapsing, what about that? But I continued reading.

They also tested butter vs. shortening. They explained that the water content of butter – up to 18 percent – evaporates during baking, causing the cookies to spread. Shortening, containing no water, should help cookies stay thick and chewy.

However, since they prefer the flavor of butter, they tested various proportions and determined that of the total cup of fat, 3/4 butter and 1/4 shortening kept the properties of the shortening with the most butter flavor.

Despite this recipe’s clear discussion of ingredients and careful baking instructions (switching the pans from high to low racks and front to back halfway through baking), there was no mention of chilling the dough beforehand.

Hmmm.

I decided to make a batch of this recipe and bake half without chilling, and the other half after chilling for a couple of hours.

The unchilled batch came out just as flat and droopy as the batch I made a week ago.

Before baking the second batch, I sought answers and wisdom at the Baked Goods section of the San Benito County Fair.

There were a lot of delicious-looking entries: cakes, brownies, fudge, quick breads, “tricks with a mix,” pies and cookies. But not a single snickerdoodle. I was beginning to suspect I knew why: snickerdoodles are impossible. Except that I have eaten them.

Hopes dashed, I turned next to a selection of recipes photocopied for me by a friend, from her collection of favorite recipes cookbooks: “Favorite Recipes” compiled by the Mothers of West Sattes Elementary School in Nitro, W. Va. in 1961, a compilation from the Women’s Auxiliary of the West Thornton, N.H. Methodist Church from 1967, “Favorite Recipes” compiled by the Eastside Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Tampa, Fla, in 1968, and one compiled by the Woodbine, Kan., Fourth of July Committee in 1978.

In all four recipes, the ingredients list was almost identical. Two used all shortening and two used part shortening and part butter. None called for vanilla.

One called for a 350 degree oven, one 375, and two for 400 degrees. Only one, the one calling for a 350 degree oven, called for chilling the dough before forming into balls, rolling in cinnamon sugar and baking.

No, the committeewomen and moms of 30-plus years ago did not seem to hold the key.

Once home from the fair, I started heating the oven to 400 degrees and got the second half of the dough out of the refrigerator. I rolled balls of dough in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and placed them on cookie sheets, being careful to leave plenty of room for spreading.

Nine minutes later, I had a dozen and a half cinnamon-y two inch diameter … pancakes.

They taste great, I admit. I’m not kicking them out of my lunchbox. But I am disappointed not to be able to duplicate that distinctive puffy texture.

I do know a woman who gets the texture right. I’ve eaten her cookies so I know it can be done. Unfortunately, she is out of town. But I’m not closing the book on snickerdoodles without talking to her.

In the meantime, here is the recipe from “Best Recipes” by the editors of Cooks Illustrated:

Snickerdoodles

For about 30 cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (note smaller amount than I mentioned above)

2 tsp. cream of tartar

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

12 tblsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, plus 3 tblsp. for rolling cookies

2 large eggs

1 tblsp. ground cinnamon, for rolling cookies

Step 1: Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

Step 2: Whisk flour (note: no sifting), cream of tartar, baking soda and salt together in medium bowl; set aside.

Step 3: Either by hand or electric mixer, cream butter, shortening and 1 1/2 cups sugar until combined, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes with electric mixer set at medium speed. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Add eggs. Beat until combined, about 30 seconds.

Step 4: Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 20 seconds.

Step 5: Mix remaining 3 tblsp. sugar with cinnamon in a shallow bowl. Working with a scant 2 tablespoons of dough each time, roll dough into 1-1/2 inch balls. Roll balls in cinnamon sugar and place on cookie sheet, spacing them 2 to 2 1/2 inches apart.

Step 6: Bake, reversing position in oven halfway through baking time (from top rack to bottom and front to back), until edges of cookies are beginning to set and centers are soft and puffy, 9 to 11 minutes. Let cookies cool on cookie sheet 2 to 3 minutes before transferring them to cooling rack with wide spatula.

Elizabeth Gage is a writer who lives in Hollister. She can be reached at [email protected]

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