You’re walking in a Mall when suddenly you feel hungry. A dozen steps later you stop in front of the store whose name combines cinnamon with a misspelled word for a small sweet roll. The smell of cinnamon has sent a message to your brain which says, “Time for something tasty, time for something good, time for something just like grandma used to make.”
Psychologists and neuroscientists who wondered why smells trigger such vivid memories for most of us have studied how we perceive odors and are pretty sure that the reason has to do with how our noses are hooked into our brains. It turns out that the olfactory bulb which starts in our nose has close connections to two parts of the brain associated with emotion and memory. When we smell something, the nerve cells in the olfactory bulb send messages directly to those parts of the brain that remind us of something important.
I wonder if a good sense of smell helped our ancestors survive. The smell of smoke tells us to beware of fire and if you happen to smell the foul odor of a brown bear’s rotten fish breath, you might want to leave the territory as fast as you can. Our distant ancestors undoubtedly knew that if a cave smelled like saber-toothed tiger, it would make sense to find another place to stay for the night.
When I was a boy my father’s parents used kerosene lamps in their home. I still love the memories that the smell of those lamps brings back. I can still see the soft sheen of the oak kitchen table, the shadowy corners in the big room and the flickering light from the stove. I can almost hear the grownups talking as they drink coffee and we eat cake or some other dessert that grandma had made. On summer nights, the curtains fluttered in the tall windows, and in the winter, I could see stars just by standing in front of one of the windows farthest from the table.
Oddly enough I don’t associate the smell of cinnamon with my grandmothers, but it has a special place in my memories of my mother. She bought cinnamon in large cans and was generous with it in her pies, cakes, puddings and cookies. When I smell a warm cinnamon roll, I can still see her shaking cinnamon over rolled-out dough on the table. Maybe that’s the reason why I hardly ever pass a bakery without stopping: To enjoy a happy memory of childhood.
Snickerdoodles are not one of my childhood memories, though my mother probably made them. She and my father both grew up in German homes, and Snickerdoodle sounds suspiciously like an American pronunciation of a German or Dutch word. It doesn’t really matter. What is important is that Snickerdoodles are really easy to make and eat.
This recipe came to Jerri from her sister-in-law Joyce who included it in a recipe box she gave us shortly after we were married. Joyce copied a couple dozen of her favorite recipes and filed them neatly in their proper category, so her recipe for Angel Pecan Pie is filed under Pastry and the one for Snickerdoodles is under Cookies and Bars. It was a thoughtful and personal gift that brings back wonderful memories every time we consult the box which is now filled to overflowing with recipes Jerri has added to the starter set from Joyce to her new sister-in-law.
True Snickerdoodle recipes use cream of tartar and baking soda instead of baking powder to leaven the cookies. Cream of tartar is an acid that reacts with the soda to create carbon dioxide bubbles that make the cookies tender and light. Many cookie recipes use baking powder, but using two whole teaspoons of cream of tartar to activate the soda gives the cookies a delightful flavor from the extra acid.
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 T sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
Cream the butter, shortening and sugar until it is light and fluffy. Add the eggs and stir until you have a smooth batter. Sift the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt by thirds into the batter, stirring well after each addition.
Preheat the oven to 400º and stir two teaspoons of cinnamon into two tablespoons of sugar in a small bowl.
Roll rounded tablespoons of dough into balls the size of small walnuts, about an inch in diameter. Roll the balls in the cinnamon sugar and place them two inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake them until they are light brown but still soft, eight to ten minutes.
NOTE: If you bake these cookies until they look completely cooked and dry, they will be hard. Such cookies are perfectly edible, but snickerdoodles are much better if they are chewy.
If you are making them for the first time, put a half dozen cookies on each of two or three small sheets. Make sure that your oven has reached 400º before you put the sheets into the oven. Take the first sheet out at eight minutes, the second at nine and the last (if there is a third sheet) at ten minutes. Try a cookie from each sheet and bake the remainder of the dough for the time you prefer, but I think they are best when baked for eight and a half or nine minutes.
This recipe makes about three dozen cookies.