Eating snickerdoodles, warm from the oven, takes me back to Sunday afternoons in Mississippi with my brother and cousins. I think my cousin LaDonna was helping me make snickerdoodles when she still “hee-hawed” liked our donkey more often than she spoke “human.”
Somehow, it seems like I’ve always made snickerdoodles. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. I’m sure my incredible mother taught me how, but I don’t remember it, probably because I was so young. Something about the familiar process of baking cookies in a kitchen wrapped in the earthy aroma of cinnamon grounds me and lifts my spirits. When I moved to Dallas after college and was homesick, I baked cookies a lot. I called it “cookie therapy” and shared the sweet treats with friends or co-workers or the preschoolers I taught on Sunday mornings.
I think cinnamon is my “spice identity.” It is warm and versatile — qualities to which I aspire, at least. Also, one of my first dates with my husband was to a Neil Young concert where he performed “Cinnamon Girl.” Mere coincidence? I think not!
Since snickerdoodles are a cinnamon-scented thread running through the fabric of my life, naturally I wanted to bake them when we moved to the Denver area about a year ago. I knew that baking usually requires adjustments at high altitude, so I did some research. (I’m a planner.) I purchased an extremely helpful book, Pie in the Sky by Susan G. Purdy, which I highly recommend to anyone new to high-altitude baking. Even though the book did not contain a snickerdoodle recipe, it had wonderful tips (and scientific reasons behind them) for altering any cookie recipe. I learned that the most common problem with cookies at high altitude is their spreading too much, resulting in a cookie that is thin and crisp. Alas, I like my snickerdoodles soft and puffy, so I experimented with my sea-level recipe, making adjustments recommended by the author. In general, cookies are improved at high altitude by:
1. Ensuring accurate and consistent temperature:
- Purchase an inexpensive oven thermometer and keep it in your oven. Use this thermometer instead of the oven display to determine the actual temperature of your oven. My oven, although brand new, always plays its happy little tune indicating that it is heated to the required temperature when actually, it is still about 50 degrees too cool. Accurate temperature is important for baking at any altitude but especially at high altitude.
- After removing cookies from the oven, allow the oven to reheat to the temperature stated in the recipe before baking the next sheet of cookies.
- After removing cookies from the oven, allow the cookie sheet to cool to room temperature before placing more dough on it. (I stick mine in the fridge for a few minutes.) This will prevent flat, over-baked edges on the cookies.
2. Using the correct pans:
- At high altitudes, use regular cookie sheets not the insulated kind which do not allow adequate heat to reach the bottoms of the cookies.
3. Modifying ingredient amounts:
- Cut the amount of sugar by one to two tablespoons per cup to prevent overspreading of dough while baking.
- Add one to two tablespoons of flour per cup to strengthen the dough so that it doesn’t fall flat after rising.
- Reduce the amount of leavening ingredients (like baking powder and baking soda) because as altitude increases, air pressure decreases. Lower air pressure means there is less air pushing down on the dough, so it requires less leavening to rise. Cookies baked at high altitude without reducing leavening agents will usually rise too quickly and then fall flat because the dough has not adequately set.
I tweaked ingredient amounts a few times and added cream cheese and cornstarch — thanks to Averie Cooks — before arriving at the following recipe, which yielded snickerdoodles as soft and delicious as any I had baked at less lofty heights:
- 2 ¾ cup plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. cream of tartar
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- 2 tsp. cornstarch
- ¼ cup salted butter, softened
- ¼ cup cream cheese, softened
- ½ cup butter-flavored shortening
- 1 ½ cup minus 2 Tbsp. sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 Tbsp. sugar
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
Place upper oven rack so that approximately one-third of the oven chamber is above it. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Do not use insulated cookie sheets.
In a medium bowl, mix flour, salt, cream of tartar, baking soda, and cornstarch. In a large bowl, cream butter, cream cheese, shortening, and sugar until light and fluffy then mix in eggs thoroughly. Add flour mixture and stir until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Mix the 2 Tbsp. sugar with the 2 tsp. cinnamon in a small bowl. Shape dough into walnut-sized balls and roll the balls in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Cover bowl containing dough tightly with plastic wrap when not shaping the dough into balls. Place balls 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Bake 6 to 8 minutes or until light brown and set. Cool cookies slightly before removing from baking sheets. After cooling cookies completely, immediately store in an air-tight container. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.