Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Snickerdoodles: This Is a Recipe Post, But It's Not JUST a Recipe Post

I am aware that I have not been blogging as much recently as I often have in the past, and I am also aware that I have been writing more blogs about cooking and cocktails than I have about my life and my children. I was NOT aware, however, that other people were missing my "kid blogs." But this past weekend when we visited my grandmother to celebrate her birthday, she dressed me down a little about it. Well, "dressed down" is a bit strong. Let's say, rather, that she let me know how disappointed she was every time she checked my blog and the latest post was still my recipe for bolognese.

So when I asked my kids if they'd like to bake something this afternoon, and they requested snickerdoodles, my first thought was, "Great, I can post a recipe blog!" But my second thought was, "Wait, I really ought to blog about my kids." But then my third thought was, "But I really WANT to blog about my kids." So I decided to cover all my bases and blog about both my kids AND my cookies. Which, not surprisingly, is an excellent combination.

My kids are at that really fun age, at ages 6 and 4-1/2 (and that half is crucially important), when they are perfectly capable of playing by themselves and keeping themselves entertained with minimal supervision, yet they also love playing with an adult. My daughter will happily make up a story with her dolls, but she's even happier if I grab a doll and play along. And my son loves to build Legos, but he has even more fun if I sit with him and ask questions and let him describe to me all the different characters and vehicles he's creating. I truly enjoy doing things with them, seeing their curious minds at work, and filling those sponge-like little brains with all kinds of information and experiences. So whenever I can find time to play with them, I do.

It's rare that I get the chance to work with both of them in the kitchen at the same time, but since they're on vacation this week (my daughter from preschool and my son and I both from homeschool), it was the perfect time for a trio of chefs to perform some kitchen magic. And perform it, we did! This snickerdoodle recipe is
pretty basic: if you bake at all regularly, you have everything you need on hand (with the possible exception of cream of tartar - which you SHOULD have, so you can make homemade playdough, but that's another blog for another day), it doesn't require chilling the dough so it's quick to make, and there are no fancy tools or equipment needed. In short, it's a great recipe to make with kids. So let's get started! As always, the complete recipe is at the bottom.

Oh, and since my cousin posted this fascinating article about cookie chemistry, I also shamelessly used the process as a chemistry lesson. (Wondering why this recipe uses room temperature butter, an egg and a yolk instead of two eggs, or both white and brown sugar? Read the article and find out! the author is experimenting with chocolate chip cookies, but a lot of the same processes apply.)

Whenever I bake with the kids, we begin by gathering our ingredients (there's nothing worse than getting halfway through a recipe and realizing you're out of something). For this recipe, you need butter, eggs, white and brown sugar, vanilla, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, cinnamon, and flour.

Start with two sticks of butter at room temperature. If you have to, you can soften them in the microwave, but be very careful not to melt them. Use low power and check often! This is a good step to have kids help you with. They like the squishiness of soft butter (which is why we wash our hands VERY well before we begin - and multiple times during).  

Cream the butter together with 3/4 cup white sugar and 1/2 cup packed brown sugar. If you have a stand mixer, use it! If all you have is your faithful hand mixer that you've owned since college (*ahem*), that's fine, too. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Spatula duty is another good job for small helpers.

Next, separate one egg and toss the white (or save it in the fridge for another use - like adding it into tomorrow's scrambled eggs), then add the yolk and the second (whole) egg. I always separate the first egg. That way, in case I accidentally break the yolk, I can pretend I meant to do that and get a second chance with the other egg. My son is the official egg-breaker in the family, so this is always his job. He is also learning to separate eggs - which is another reason we tried with the first egg first. As you can see, he did an excellent job!

Add a tablespoon of vanilla (it seems like a lot, but it's the main flavoring in the cookie, along with the cinnamon, so don't stint!) and beat on medium for another minute or so.

Add a teaspoon of baking powder, a teaspoon of cream of tartar, 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, and a teaspoon of cinnamon. If using a hand mixer, I recommend folding these ingredients in with the spatula before beating with the mixer - it's less messy that way. Plus, little ones who like to stir can help.

When you're done mixing, the dough should be very soft and creamy, and uniform in color.

Gradually add 2-3/4 cups flour, beating on low at first. Scrape the sides of the bowl often. The finished dough should be quite smooth and only slightly sticky, although very soft.

In a smaller bowl, combine 1/4 cup white sugar with 1 tablespoon cinnamon. This will be used to coat the cookie balls before baking. I like to use a fairly wide, shallow bowl so it's easier to roll the dough balls around. My official stirrer was also a big help in mixing here. You can whisk the mixture together with a fork or a small wire whisk. You'll know it's mixed when the color is even, with no streaks.

Now, we're ready to roll out the cookies! First, preheat the oven to 325, then line a couple of large cookie sheets with parchment paper. Next, scoop out about 2 tablespoons of dough - about the size of a small munchkin. I like to use this handy little gadget, which probably has an actual name, but which I generally refer to as my "cookie flicker." You use the flat blade like a scoop, then pinch the handle and the upper edge pushes the dough neatly off the blade. If you don't have one of these, a) look for one at your grandmother's house or a local yard sale, or b) use a couple of teaspoons. This is my kids' favorite part of the whole cookie-making process; it's like playing with playdough!

Roll each ball very gently between your palms to form a smooth ball, then roll carefully in the cinnamon sugar until well coated, and place on the parchment-covered cookie sheet, leaving about 2 inches between cookies.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until puffed and golden. The cookies will firm a bit as they cool, but undercooking can leave the middles a bit batter-y (not that that's necessarily a bad thing). If you want to get fancy, you can turn the tray around halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking, but I didn't find that it made a difference.

When done, allow the cookies to cool on the parchment paper. Don't bother using a cooling rack; if you put them on a cooling rack while they're still warm, they tend to droop through the wires. If you need to reuse the cookie sheet for another batch, just give them about 10 minutes to set and then lift the whole sheet of parchment off and leave it on the table to finish cooling, and re-cover the cookie sheet with another sheet of parchment.

 And, of course, the last - and BEST! - part of the process is enjoying the results! YUM!!

Easy Snickerdoodles

For the cookies:
1 cup butter (room temperature)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg plus 1 yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2-3/4 cups flour

For the coating:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add in egg, yolk, and vanilla and beat for an additional minute, scraping sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Turn mixer to medium-low and add baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, and cinnamon. Gradually add flour with mixer on low, scraping bowl with spatula and mixing till just combined.

In a small, shallow bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon till well mixed and set aside.

Preheat oven to 325 and line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper. Scoop out two tablespoons of dough at a time and shape into balls, then roll in cinnamon sugar until well coated. Place on parchment, leaving about 2 inches between cookies. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until edges are slightly golden. If you prefer crisper cookies, bake for 2 additional minutes. Allow to cool on parchment.

Makes 3 dozen.

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