It's not just the cinnamon that makes these treats so incredibly appealing.

By Ellen Morrissey
June 26, 2020
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Snickerdoodles are an American classic. The crinkly-topped, chewy, old-fashioned favorites are not the most impressive looking cookies—post one on your social media feed and you're not likely to get hundreds of likes—but if you set aside an hour or so to bake a batch of snickerdoodles, you will get a taste of dessert history. As an added bonus, your kitchen will begin to smell heavenly along the way. And there's no need for fancy equipment or baking expertise required to bake a few dozen snickerdoodles, and you probably already have all of the ingredients you need in your pantry.

What Makes the Snickerdoodle Special?

Standard snickerdoodle recipes call for flour, sugar, salt, butter or vegetable shortening (or both), and eggs in the dough, as well as a mixture of ground cinnamon and sugar for rolling balls of dough before baking. Most—but not all—rely on a combination of baking soda and cream of tartar for leavening. Purists believe the cream of tartar is key to the snickerdoodle's chewy texture and its delightful, slightly tangy taste. Cream of tartar activates the baking soda and keeps sugar crystals from forming, so the cookies end up pillowy rather than crisp. Non-purists believe it's the cinnamon-sugar itself that accounts for the appeal of the cookie, and leave the cream of tartar out, replacing it with baking powder for leavening.

In recent years, as dessert mash-ups became wildly popular, the name snickerdoodle has been applied to cinnamon-flavored desserts of all kinds. You'll find recipes for snickerdoodle cupcakes, coffee cakes, pies, tarts, ice creams, puddings, lattes, and beyond. As for cookie recipes, some cooks take license with the name to create appealing variations that include ingredients like pumpkin. Others will stick to the classic formula and simply swap out a portion of the all-purpose flour for whole wheat. You can also use natural (raw) sugar in place of granulated for the topping, which makes for an extra crinkly-crackly texture and appearance.

The Sweet History of the Snickerdoodle

Though the appeal of snickerdoodles is universal, their history is not as definitive. The earliest recipes appeared in print towards the end of the 19th century, but handwritten recipes circulated for many years beforehand. Some say that snickerdoodles originated in New England, and that the name is simply a nonsensical word that results from a regional naming tradition. In The Book of New England Cookery, author Judith Jones offers such an explanation: "New England cooks had a penchant for giving odd names to their dishes—apparently for no other reason than the fun of saying them."

Others claim that the cookies were introduced in Pennsylvania, and derived from German and Dutch cookies of similar textures and flavor profiles. (You can still find snickerdoodles for sale in Amish markets throughout Pennsylvania Dutch country.) Those culinary historians believe that the name is a deviation a German word meaning "crinkly noodle" or "snail." Though no one can pinpoint for sure where the snickerdoodle came from, one thing is for sure: This beloved American cookie is here to stay.

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