The fabulous Shauna over at Gluten Free Girl sent out a tweet last week asking everyone what the first thing they ever cooked was. I immediately thought of the simple basic snickerdoodle. Some people love it, some people find it boring and some people have never heard of it. For me though, it’s ripe with history and nostalgia…because it’s the first thing I ever learn to bake.
My mom always thought us kids (I have two siblings) should be in summer school. Though we never HAD to go to summer school (having never flunked a class) it was always a given that we would attend summer school, just to get us out of the house and to have something to do. And in truth, we never questioned that logic. While other kids complained about summer school, or complained about school in general, we mostly loved school. Well, to the extent that we could love anything that forced us to wake up.
My siblings and I are inherently a lazy bunch, and if given the choice, would probably go through life asleep, or at least doing as little as possible.
Case in point. My older brother is quite smart. He went to an ivy league school. He went to medical school and is now a successful forensic psychiatrist. His aptitude for schoolwork clearly showed, as he kept on setting the curve in his science classes all throughout high school. At one point his teacher pulled him aside and told him that he should really move up to the honors class, as he was smarter than the everyone in the regular science class.
My brother refused. Why bother working harder to achieve that A when he could achieve the same grade in an easier class?
Of course, a couple of years after he graduated, the school system changed their point system, such that an A in an honors class was worth more than an A in a regular class. This, of course, happened after he graduated. I’d like to think they my brother’s laziness ruined it for the rest of us, making it harder for me to get a higher ranking in my class. He graduated in the top 10 of his class of 400. I graduated in the top 10% of my class of 450. Big brother, I shake my fist at you!
Back to summer school. I wasn’t stupid (though clearly not as smart or as smart ass as my brother), but I did go to elective summer school. And the earliest memory of summer school I went to was taking a cooking class.
It was the summer between 3rd and 4th grade for me. Every day, we learned a new recipe. And though I can remember only one other recipe from the class (barbecue chicken), I have distinct memories of baking – and specifically baking snickerdoodles.
That summer school class class is where I fell in love with making food. Growing up Taiwanese, my mom made food that seemed completely normal to me, but baffled all my fellow classmates (and a few of my teachers too). In kindergarten my teacher went around the class and asked everyone how they liked to eat their eggs. “Hard boiled! I love to peel the shell!”, said one kid wearing his garanimals and mimicking the act of smashing the egg on the table and peeling it. “No! Scrambled is the best” proclaimed the next kid, as kids around the table nodded their heads in agreement. And you, Irvin? What do you like asked the kindergarten teacher? “I like brown eggs.” I said, wearing my hand me down 70’s polyester plaid pants. “Brown eggs?” “Brown eggs?” “Never heard of brown eggs.” “What’s brown eggs?” I was astonished to find that no one in the class knew what brown eggs were. Not even the teacher. She asked me to get the recipe from my mom and bring it in, but I never did.
Side note. Brown eggs, or soy sauce eggs, are peeled hardboiled eggs that have been later cooked in a rich soy sauce broth, taking on a chestnut brown color in the process. They too, remind me of my childhood, as I don’t think I’ve ever had them since moving out of my parent’s house. To this day, I still don’t know how to make them. I should really get the recipe from my mom.
As a small child, taking the summer cooking class was eye opening to me. The magic and the mystery of making food was revealed, and it wasn’t that hard! It was the baking of the snickerdoodles that stuck with me. Putting a stick of butter in the measuring cup and then putting white Crisco shortening in the rest of the cup to measure out an even 1 cup. Carefully dipping the cup in the bag of flour, leveling it off with the back of a knife. Measuring out the mysterious wonderful smelling murky brown vanilla extract and spooning out the baking soda from the cardboard box and the strange cream of tartar (I thought cream was like milk? I thought tartar was the weird sauce that Chris down the street dipped his fish sticks every Friday night?). Cracking the eggs into the dough and stirring everything together until it makes a substance not unlike playdough.
Then taking a spoonful of the dough and rolling it around in our hands (mom always told me not to play with my food, but here I’m being told by the teacher to do exactly that!) to make balls, and then rolling those balls into sugar and cinnamon.
And the stick it in the oven!
Out came cookies. Not the store bought cookies that I was used. Not the hard, tough, flavorless cookies that the cartoon elves made. Nope. These were soft, chewy, melt in your mouth, light as air, magical cookies. Sweet, slightly spicy, cookies that I had never had before, never had at home, nor even at my friend’s houses where I usually was introduced to the foods that I could never find at home like Captain Crunch or frozen Totino’s Pizza. Nope this was foreign, exotic and I was in love. With the cookie and with the magical process that made them.
After the class I started making them at home. I once accidentally made them without cream of tartar. They came out flat and rock hard. I got impatient and put more balls on the sheet than I was suppose to. They cooked into a puzzle like sheet of snickerdoodles that I loved because they were all soft, no hard edges. I called them my snickerpuzzle cookies, all of the cookies melding into each other, but easily broken apart at the seams. I baked them for friends when they came over, and I baked them alone on a weekend afternoons.
Finally my mom told had enough. She was tired of me making a huge mess in the kitchen. And she struck a deal with me. I was only allowed to bake if I also cleaned up the mess I made. After that, I baked and clean as part of the ritual. I remember having baking and cleaning so ingrained in my head, that when I went to my cousin’s house in Washington D.C. to visit a few years later, I baked cookies and was confused when their housekeeper cleaned up after me. I remember turning to her and scolding her, telling her that I was the one that baked, I should also be the one to clean up! She looked at me confused, bemused at this 10 year old boy telling her how to do her job. Or maybe she only spoke Chinese and didn’t understand a word I said to her. Either way, she ignored me and proceeded to finish the dishes, leaving us to the baked cookies.
Nowadays, I don’t make snickerdoodles that often. I’m busy running around trying to build fancy desserts (croquembouche!), use different ingredients (sorghum flour!), different techniques (royal icing cookies!). But when Shauna tweeted about the very first thing I learned to cook, I knew I had to write a post about it, even though I had no time to.
Because sometimes you don’t want the fancy, crazy dessert. Sometimes you don’t want to try the new technique or experiment with a different ingredient. Sometimes you don’t have time to think of what challenging new experience you are up for. Sometimes you want comfort. You want familiar. You want to be reminded of who you were back then, and how that informed you of who you are now.
Snickerdoodles is where it all started for me. And I was happy to make them again, before my crazy short trip I was making to L.A. this past weekend, and share them with all my friends down there. I went down to to pick up my amazing boyfriend who just cycled from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money for AIDS, and to get away from San Francisco for a few days. I stayed with my awesome friends Rita and Damon who just bought an amazing condo in Santa Monica. I baked a couple of pies, brought a few cookies, baked a few cookies and had nearly 20 of my favorite people over to their new place. One of them, my dear friend Sara, totally light up when she saw the snickerdoodles sitting on the table. She had just been to a dessert party the night before and was so happy to see snickerdoodles there as well. She ate a bunch there, took some home and ate them breakfast the next day, and then saw them at Rita and Damon’s that afternoon, and proceeded to immediately eat some more of them because she loves them that much, showing the power of the snickerdoodle. She then proceeded to thank me for making them.
I didn’t tell her my story of the snickerdoodle. I just smiled and said it was my pleasure to make them. And I couldn’t have meant it more.
For a gluten free version of these cookies – check out my other post, Gluten Free Snickerdoodles – The Very First Thing I Ever Baked Redux, where I revisited these cookies…
Whilst baking these cookies, I decided to be thematic and go old school and listen to the very first cassette tape I purchased, Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual and the very first vinyl record I purchased New Edition (their very first album). It took me back…
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup + 3 tablespoon white sugar, divided
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup trans-free shortening
2 large eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 3/4 cups all purpose unbleached flour
1. Take the butter out of the refrigerator and cut it into 1/2” chunks. Put the chunks into a mixing bowl of a standing mixer (outfitted with the paddle attachment).
2. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F
3. Line two baking sheets or cookie sheets with silpats or parchment paper
4. Combine 3 tablespoon of granulated white sugar with the cinnamon together in a shallow bowl. Put aside.
5. Put the shortening in the bowl with the butter and turn on the mixer to medium, beating them together until they are well blended.
6. Add the 1 1/2 cups of sugar, and continue to beat until light and fluffy.
7. Add the eggs, one at a time beating after each addition and scraping down the sides with a spatula. Add the vanilla and beat again.
8. Add the cream of tartar, baking soda and salt into the butter mixture and beat well.
9. Add the flour and beat until smooth.
10. Roll the dough into 1” balls into the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Place on the baking sheets about 2” apart.
11. Bake for 10-12 minutes of until the tops of the cookies start to crack a little. Try not to over bake them, but don’t underbake them either. You want them them to crack on top, but not to look to dark brown. Cool on a rack and feel the nostalgia as you eat them.
Note 1. I have intentionally have you take and cut the butter out of the refrigerator first. I want the butter to warm up ever so slightly from the fridge but not get completely to room temperature. You can use your own judgement as to the order that you want to do things. But keep in mind the warmer the butter, the more the cookies will spread.
Note 2. The original Snickerdoodle recipe that I was taught is sadly lost to history. After a couple of moves, my parents no longer had the photocopied, stapled together “cookbook” that my summer school class gave out to everyone that participated. This recipe is my attempt at replicating that recipe from yesteryear. It’s fairly close to what I remember.
>i LOVE love LOVE the old photos!!! And this party, which you filled with so much great conversation, great food, and love!, has made our new home a happier place. Come back! Come back right now!!!
I'm eating a snickerdoodle right now!! Thinking of you, and happy.
>Oh, and I can vouch for the cooking and cleaning. Every time I needed a utensil Irvin had just used, it was already washed. It was stunning.
It was like the pies and cookies were making themselves!
>Can i be your new best friend?
>Have I ever told you how much I love snickerdoodles? They are possibly my favorite cookie ever. Snicks are the cookie equivalent of vanilla ice cream: under-rated and under-appreciated, but absolutely perfect in its simplicity. Ooh…now I want a snickerdoodle/vanilla ice cream sandwich!
Great post! We made an all-butter snickerdoodle at the bakery I used to work at, and everyone loved them. So when my mother-in-law wanted to make snickerdoodles with my son, I insisted she use butter instead of the Crisco she'd bought. Needless to say, a bit of a passive-aggressive battle of wills ensued, but in the end the cookies were delicious (and free of trans fats)!
And I've always loved the look of snickerdoodles – all crumples and creases, like a cozy bed that you just want to burrow into. 😉
Mr. Jackhonky says
@Rita. If only I could be there RIGHT NOW! I would you know! Damn this pesky making a living. Go find me an agent. I need to become famous and independently wealthy. Then I COULD be there right now!
@Anonymous. Sure! But I need a name first.
@Felisa. 1. you have not. 2. I will make you some. 3. I've been wanting to make a pizookie from this recipe : http://bit.ly/az0LjX so maybe it would be a good excuse to do it next time you guys come over!
@Tara. I have made them all butter and with butter/shortening and i have to say i like it with the shortening! Even though i LOVE LOVE LOVE butter, the shortening gives it a better texture for me. that said, i totally use trans-free shortening. I'm actually slowly working my way through all the crisco I have (which is still trans-free, but I'm suspicious of it because of the loopholes regarding labeling something trans-free) and switching over to refined coconut or palm oil. We'll see how they compare once I do.
That said, i ALSO love the crumples and creases! I love what you said about it being a cozy bed! Hrumph. I should have brought up a few cookies from LA, but I left them down there. Perhaps I will just have to bake more…
I just read that pizookie post and died 10 times in a row. Holy mother of all things yummy.
Mr. Jackhonky says
@Felisa. I KNOW! Right?!?! I made chocolate chip pizookies awhile ago for Erik and Megan at their place, but they were totally underbaked….so I've been wanting to make them again….Perhaps you will provide a good excuse to do just that….
Wait! Does coconut oil count as shortening? If so, I could totally get on board. I just always think of "shortening" as the generic term for Crisco. But coconut oil – I love that stuff! Makes me want to take every shortening-based recipe I have and try it with coconut oil. This could be bad . . .
I found your blog randomly. Great post!! These snicker doodles look great!! I made snickerdoodles a couple years ago and it was a complete flop. I think I'll give your recipe a shot.
Would you mind checking out my blog? 😀 http://ajscookingsecrets.blogspot.com/
Snickerdoodles…it's nice to finally figure out what they are! Have you ever made the GF? If so, can you share your conversion with me, I'd love to give the snickerdoodle a try so that I can know what they are like!
Mr. Jackhonky says
@Tara. Actually I don't know if you can substitute as a 1 to 1 ratio for coconut oil to shortening! Coconut oil has a much lower melting temperature, so it might not work….
That said, I use it when I make vegan baked goods a lot (more than the buttery sticks that I have, because artificial butter flavor kinda creeps me out) but I've never made it in a pastry crust. If you do try it, let me know how it works out! Once I get around to experimenting, I'll let you know the results.
@AJC. Thanks for stopping by! You should totally try to make snickerdoodles again. They are super fun to make. And nice blog! I love the blueberry sauce. So simple to make but homemade sauce makes everything seem fancier!
@Kirstenslife. I guess they don't have snickerdoodles up in Canada eh? I've actually never made them GF, but I totally wanted to for this blog entry (as it WAS inspired by Shauna over at GFG) but I didn't have time.
Once I figure out the proportions of flours to use (ie. once I have time to get back into the kitchen!), I'll post a GF version of it!
Chef Dennis says
what a great memory!! and snickerdoodles were a great place to start, it looks like you still make a pretty darn good one!
P.S. I hope you and I have discussed how Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual was the first cassette I ever bought, too!! I think we have. 🙂
Oh, and what a crack up about your brother refusing to move into honors classes. Ha! My mom wanted me to switch to the "better" high school one town over, but I knew I had a good thing going.
Snickerdoodles, for me, are the ultimate comfort cookie. And you must replicate that Brown Eggs recipe. You know that, right? 😉
Snickerdoodles are also one of the first foods I learned to make. I made them often as a young cook. Mostly because they are so basic that we almost always had all the ingredients on hand and they were a never fail item (unlike many of my adult attempts at baking,sigh). I made them just the other day for the first time in MANY MANY years and they did not disappoint. Simple perfection! I too wish I had that original recipe. They were perfectly fluffy and tender on the inside and crispy on the outside. Can't wait to try your recipe!
Mr. Jackhonky says
@Kirstenlife. I haven't forgotten about the GF version! I'm just totally behind on stuff. it's coming!!!
@Chef Dennis. Thanks! It's amazing how just the smell of the cookies can take me back to my childhood!
@Rita. I don't know if you and I HAVE discussed that before, but we MUST have?!?
@Juline. I KNOW! I'm going to try to get her recipe, but she's of the old school "You just combine the ingredients together, there's not written recipe!" methodology. I'll have to drill on the basic ingredients though and experiment.
@to2sassy. I love your name! These came out fairly close to my childhood memory, but I think nothing will compare that distant hazy memory. No matter how good the cookie is, the memory is just too magical to replicate in real life I think!
Mr. Jackhonky says
The gluten free version recipe is now posted! Check it out.
Love the story and the photos….and is it awful to say that I've never had a snickerdoodle? The recipe looks delicious and I guess I better get into the kitchen soon and bake up a batch!
Mr. Jackhonky says
@kickpleat. Thanks! I wonder if snickerdoodles are more of an American thing? Kirstenlife (a fellow canadian) had never had them either!
They aren't earthshattering, nor are they a cookie that I crave (like I will sometimes crave a warm melty chocolate chip cookie) but when I have a snickerdoodle, I just get transported to the past and my childhood.
P.S. When you make the dough stick it int he fridge for about an hour and it will firm up so when you roll it and put it on the sheet they will hod their shape better.
mmm… Snickerdoodles are my number two cookie of all time.
After going throught he comments I have a few suggestions,
1) for baking, butter flavored Crisco is your friend. You get the flavor of butter with the texture that short imparts on your baked goods.
2) Oil may not work as well in the cookies because you need something that firms up in cool temps and wont completely melt like oil in warmer temps.
3) I believe Snickerdoodles are a American Mid West thing because my mother got it from her mother who got it from her mother who moved brought the recipe to Oregon from Minnesota. It's a very… generic white-people style of cookie that just invokes the child in everyone who grew up with it… I suppose thats why Snickerdoodles and Mexican Wedding Cookies are my top two for a half breed like me! hahaha
Brown Eggs are SOOOOO good! I had them once at a party and spent a good 20 minutes walking around trying to find out who brought them… I never found out and have ruined many a egg trying to follow recipes I fund online that never quite turned out as I remember they should because they called for black tea and stuff. The good ones I had were all soy sauce so if you can get the recipe from your mom I would LOVE to try it!
Mr. Jackhonky says
@Midnight Agenda. You know, I've actually never been a fan of butter flavored Crisco. I think it might just be me, but the artificial butter flavor tastes too chemically to me. Which is why I use a 50/50 split with regular crisco and butter.
Also I never use oil in cookies. I agree you need something that will be solid at room temperature. I sometimes refrigerate my dough, but I find that these are just fine to roll after I make the dough, though my hands do get a little sticky. That said, I occasionally use a European style butter, which has less water in it, when I bake these. Less water means they stay firmer and don't spread a much.
And I really need to get that recipe from my mom. Brown eggs are different than Tea Eggs though! Don't confuse the two! Tea eggs are great but the soy sauce brown eggs are the ones that I remember from my childhood. There are many recipes out there for tea eggs, but if you google soy sauce eggs, that's what I am nostalgic for…
Great recipe! I found a link to your recipe on Tastespotting. I increased the flour by 1/4 C. and I think next time I will also add an additional 1/2 tsp. salt. This is my new favorite snickerdoodle recipe. Thanks!
I love these cookies. I am from Maine and they are practically a staple there. One thing many old timers do up there is put nutmeg in the cookie instead of Cinnamon. We also add it to a bit of sugar and sprinkle over the top.. I have to admit, that was the one I grew up on and love.
I love the idea of nutmeg instead of cinnamon! That would be a nice change up. I’ve done it with cardamom as well. The cookie is a pretty versatile that way.