High Country Baking: Mountain Snickerdoodles are a homey treat
July 24, 2013
Editor's note: Living in the Colorado High Country is pure joy. Baking in it isn't. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Here it is! The iconic snickerdoodle, adjusted for altitude! There should be fanfare with this announcement because, if my emails are any indication, a whole lot of High Country residents have been waiting anxiously for a recipe that works in the mountains. No question, this simple, old-fashioned sugar cookie — with a light cinnamon flavor, a crispy outside and a slightly chewy center — is an American favorite.
Unfortunately, it isn't easy to duplicate its taste and texture at high elevations; I made numerous attempts before I was completely satisfied with the results. What did I learn from my trials? It's very important to measure your ingredients exactly; the cookies will spread if the dough contains too much of the liquid ingredients and will flatten with changes in the amount of dry ingredients. Their time in the oven is also critical to their success: Take them out when they are set but still very soft or you'll lose the chewy center. I recommend serving them when they are slightly warm. You can reheat stored ones at a low oven temperature or in the microwave.
Some snickerdoodle recipes result in a round, puffy cookie, others in one that is thin and flat. This version comes out somewhere in between. The use of nutmeg also varies from recipe to recipe. We like what it contributes, so I've included it in the recipe below, but you can omit it if you choose.
(Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet.)
1 1/3 cups plus 3 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour (spoon and level to measure)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, optional
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (one stick), slightly softened
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, preferably Baker's
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 large egg at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack positioned in the upper third. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick aluminum foil.
Combine the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, nutmeg and salt in a mixing bowl, and whisk vigorously to thoroughly combine. Set the bowl aside. Cut the softened butter into eight pieces, and combine them in another bowl with the granulated sugar and corn syrup. Beat, with an electric mixer on medium speed, until light and fluffy. Add the room-temperature egg and the vanilla, and beat again until fully combined and smooth.
Add half of the flour mixture and, by hand or on the lowest speed of your mixer, stir only until the dry ingredients are fully incorporated into the cookie dough. Add the rest of the flour mixture and do the same. Let the dough sit on a counter or in the refrigerator for about 10 to 15 minutes, until it firms up a bit.
In a small bowl, combine the fourth cup of granulated sugar with the cinnamon, and stir until evenly distributed. Roll the dough into balls just a little larger than 1 inch in diameter, dredge them in the cinnamon-sugar until heavily coated with it, and place them on one of the prepared cookie sheets, about 3 inches apart. Don't flatten the dough balls, as you would if making the cookies at sea level. Put the cookie sheet, with the dough balls on it, in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes, until the balls are firm to the touch but not rock hard. (This will help prevent spreading when the snickerdoodles are baked.) Place the first cookie sheet in the oven, prepare the rest of the dough for baking, and place the second cookie sheet, with dough balls, in the freezer.
Reverse the cookie sheet in the oven front to back about halfway through baking. Bake the cookies only until the tops are set and the bottoms have colored slightly. (Take them out before they look done by sea-level standards.) This can take from 9 to 14 minutes, but don't use time to determine when to remove them from the oven; depend on how the cookies look and feel. Don't overbake them or they'll get hard. Place the second cookie sheet in the oven as soon as you remove the first one.
Let the baked snickerdoodles cool on the cookie sheet a minute or two, until they firm up enough to move, and then transfer them to a rack to cool completely. As soon as they are cool, store them, tightly covered. They'll dry out quickly if left out in the air. They will last, well stored, for a week, at room temperature or six weeks in the freezer.
Makes about 24 3-inch cookies.
This cookie is inspired by one in "The All American Cookie Book."
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC's Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Contact her at email@example.com.