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My earliest memory of a snickerdoodle is inexorably linked to The Legend of Zelda. I can still feel the way my elbows dug into the painfully tight weave of the carpet as I stretched out on the floor, chin propped in the palm of my hand, watching my best friend load a golden cartridge into the NES.
We had no idea what was about to happen, only that it was going to be epic.
With the main theme blasting at full volume, somewhere between the introduction of Prince Darkness "Gannon" and my first glimpse of the Triforce, the smell of cinnamon sugar wafted into the room. Her mom would later deliver a plate of crinkly cookies, and, while I don't remember actually eating them, I'll never forget learning their name.
Snickerdoodles slipped into my vocabulary alongside Stalfos, Octoroks, and Tektites, and even to this day, those dusty brown cookies remind me of wandering through the deserts east of Hyrule. Perhaps that's why I've always considered them something strange and exotic, rather than a workaday American snack dating back to the 19th century.
Historically, snickerdoodles were actually a type of coffee cake, which is why they're so wonderfully puffy and soft. But in the early 20th century, they evolved into drop cookies, a much handier incarnation, as they no longer required forks or plates to serve. They were still considered something of a tea cake, served at luncheons with other light nibbles.
During World War II, many snickerdoodle recipes began replacing part of the butter with shortenings like Crisco and Snowdrift. These pure fats created a richer dough that creamed up lighter than those made from butter alone, keeping the cookies particularly tender and moist. They also gave the cookie a slightly crinkly crust, a phenomenon that seems to result from blending saturated fats (à la brownies made from butter and chocolate).
It's that unique feature I remember most, but in the butter-phobic 1980s, the first snickerdoodles I ate were undoubtedly part margarine (another word that sounds suspiciously more like Hylian than English). I'm not inclined to bake with shortening or margarine, so I use coconut oil in conjunction with butter to create shining, shimmering, splendid snickerdoodles, sans hydrogenation. Since coconut oil is naturally solid at room temperature, it behaves in much the same way, enriching the dough and helping the butter cream up even fluffier and lighter.
While my initial tests relied on the neutral flavor of refined coconut oil, I eventually ran out and was forced to dip into a jar of fragrant virgin coconut oil. Instead of turning my snickerdoodles into some sort of tropical confection, it simply worked as an aromatic, boosting the otherwise subtle note of vanilla and rounding out the earthy sweetness of ground cinnamon.
Speaking of which, old-timey recipes described these cookies as spicy, and they weren't kidding around. I stumbled across a recipe for snickerdoodles in an 1891 advertisement for Cleveland Baking Powder that called for one part cinnamon to three parts sugar, and, half a century later, some recipes raised that to equal parts sugar 'n' spice.
We seem to have tamed things since then, or else improved the freshness and quality of our cinnamon—cinnamon today can be surprisingly (hysterically, dangerously) abrasive, so using too much can make the cookies taste astringent.
Still, I've found that snickerdoodles can handle a lot more spice than modern recipes dare to dish out, as long as you know how to apply it. In my recipe, that means cutting back on the ground spice and replacing a portion of it with freshly grated cinnamon. Not only does it create a more complex cinnamon flavor and pretty flecks of color against the dough, it delivers the same easygoing, I'm just joshing around sort of heat you'd find in Red Hot candies. It's a matter of taste, not science, so feel free to use what you have on hand or play around with the ratios; just remember that the flavor needs to be relatively intense so it can stand up to the otherwise sweet dough.
On that note, don't just drop the scoops of cookie dough into the cinnamon sugar. To ensure an even coat, first roll each scoop of dough between your palms until it's smooth and a little sticky from the warmth.
After dredging the dough, flatten each portion into a disk and dust with cinnamon sugar to create a thick top coat that will crack and crinkle as the cookies bake. Just like Link's silver arrow, these'll slay you with one bite.
Get the recipe below, or see it all in our step-by-step illustrated instructions.
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