snickerdoodles

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this past summer, I took some time to visit old friends who had moved to europe. it is wonderful, the way that time and distance can disappear when one reunites with a good friend. my first leg was berlin, a city I could see myself living in one day.

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view from the french cathedral, gendarmenmarkt

in berlin, evenings spent at hole-in-the-wall restaurants where the tables spilled into the streets turned into late nights spent sipping beers with good company and counting rats along the riverbank, or dancing, or chatting around sticky tables in smoke-filled dark bars. days were spent biking to flea markets, napping in the dry blazing heat at parks, stopping through coffee shops across the city, and marveling at the artifacts, paintings, and bullet hole-riddled walls of berlin’s museums. everything was closed on sundays, and the city seemed all the more alive for it.

I have to say that I failed to try any traditional german fare, instead enjoying the cuisine of their sizable immigrant population, from delicious south vietnamese fish to burning hot korean fried chicken wings to late-night doner kebabs.

since returning from europe, I have moved to washington, dc. to break in the oven (and bribe/befriend my new classmates), I decided to bake up a batch of cookies. apparently, snickerdoodles might come from an english butchering of a german word, schneckennudel, or “snail noodles”… or it might just be a nonsensical name invented by someone in new england. either way, in my mind, snickerdoodles are a quintessential american cookie, a food of comfort after weeks on the road.

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makes ~1 1/2 dozen cookies

1 1/2 cups (180 g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
10 tbsp (138g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar + 2 tbsp (divided)
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cinnamon
samantha seneviratne. snickerdoodles. new york times. 17 february 2017. accessed 23 august 2017.

1 heat oven to 375ºF. (I baked different batches at 350ºF, 375ºF, and 400ºF in my electric non-convection oven and the 375ºF worked best; if you have a convection oven, you may want to lower the temperature.)
2 in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.
3 in the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and 3/4 cup guar until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides as necessary. beat in the egg until creamy, then add the vanilla, again scraping down the sides. add the flower mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low until just combined. (don’t over beat, as your cookies will become too tough!)
4 place the dough in the fridge, covered, for 10-30 minutes.
5 in a small bowl, combine the remaining 2 tbsp sugar and cinnamon. roll the dough into golf ball-sized balls and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture.
6 transfer the dough to parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets, at least 3 inches apart. bake the cookies unitil just set and dry in the center, 10-12 minutes. transfer each sheet to a rack to cool for 1-3 minutes, then transfer the cookies to racks to cool completely.
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pumpkin snickerdoodles

pumpkin snickerdoodle 2

my first memory of baking was as a child, standing on a new purple rubbermaid stool and feeling important as my sister and I measured out ingredients for snickerdoodles and mixed them together under the watchful gaze of my college-aged aunt.

my aunt had seemed confident and in control at the time, but when the cookies came out of the oven and we tried them, she had this look on her face that I didn’t understand at the time. however, after years of baking, I have finally come to recognize as the expression I wear every time someone first tries my baked goods, or reads something I’ve written for the first time – that desire for approval.

when I was a child, I baked for myself. even if everyone else thought gummy worms in muffins was weird, if I liked it, I was happy. but as I grew older and fell into the routine of endlessly seeking approval for papers, for piano, for most of my decisions, I began to develop worries that even if I loved something, others would not. and when others expressed disappointment or concerns, I took in their comments as a reflection of my personal flaws.

it’s strange to look back on that moment when my aunt watched my sister and I take the first bite of her cookie recipe and recognize that in that moment, my aunt, a fiercely independent world traveler and one of the smartest people I know, was vulnerable to the opinions of two kids.

as I navigate 23 (apparently the age when nobody likes you), I am still trying to figure out my next move. but there’s something I realized – not everyone has the same tastes, and not every decision can be met with unanimous approval, and ultimately, my image of adulthood was not truth, but (mis)perception.

we’ve been told that growing up means letting childhood become memories, but I don’t want to just remember the girl who tried to bake bread in a car parked outside on a hot summer day (and then tried to eat it, to her mother’s dismay). I want to take a lesson from her that life has no recipe, that really, no one has it all together and it’s okay to do things (and even totally mess them up) because you want to, not because it is the formulaically “right” thing to do.

my sister has started her final year of dorm living; it is a bit shocking to think that we are now both older than my aunt was back then (and even more shocking to think that my aunt is married and about to have her first child!). I sent my sister some pumpkin snickerdoodles, a combination of her favorite cookie and favorite fall ingredient. fluffy, tangy, and with warm spiced pumpkin flavor, these snickerdoodles are as delicious as those of my childhood memories.

pumpkin snickerdoodle 1
makes 30-36 snickerdoodles

3 1/4 cup (406g) all-purpose flour
3 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 + 1/8 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
scant 1 cup (185g) sugar
3/4 cup (150g) light brown sugar, packed
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup (187.5g) canned pumpkin purée
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup granulated sugar + 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

jaclyn bell. pumpkin snickerdoodles. cooking classy. 24 oct 2014. accessed 17 sept 2015.

1 in a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, cream of tartar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice for 20 seconds; set aside.
2 in bowl of stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream together butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar (until combined; not pale and fluffy). occasionally scrape down sides and bottom of bowl throughout mixing. mix in egg yolk, then mix in pumpkin and vanilla extract. with mixer set on low speed, slowly add in dry ingredients, then mix until just combined.
3 divide dough in half and cover each half in plastic wrap, then chill for 45 min to 1 hour.
4 preheat oven to 350ºF. in a small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup sugar with 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon. scoop dough out, ~2 tbsp per ball, then roll dough in cinnamon sugar mixture until evenly coated and transfer to a parchment paper lined baking sheet. space cookies ~2 in apart and using your palm, flatten cookies slightly.
5 bake 12-14 minutes (slightly under-baked, as they’ll continue to cook on the baking sheet after being removed from the oven.) cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.