Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Snickerdoodles and Tea for Two
The outsider may indeed wonder at this seeming much ado about nothing. What a tempest in a tea-cup! he will say. But when we consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how soon overflowed with tears, how easily drained to the dregs in our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea-cup. Mankind has done worse.
-Kakuzo Okakura (The Book of Tea)
For as long as I can remember, the majority of my friendships have been marked by tea. Tea and cookies, tea and cakes, tea and long, meandering conversations. It's a lovely little ritual that, when I was at Columbia, involved afternoons at the magical Alice's Tea Cup; in Japan, it consisted of weekly meetings on Shijo Kawaramachi at Mariage Freres, followed by trips to the massive bookstore upstairs; and here, in California, it consists of afternoons at friends' apartments, usually with some kind of homemade baked good. It's the kind of thing that can really spoil you.
And this past Sunday, I had an idyllic afternoon at a friend's, free from worry, work and with sunshine streaming through the massive windows that dominate her apartment (all of my friends have better natural lighting than I do, which is kind of sad; I swear that my next apartment will be full of light, regardless of how much the size of the closet might tempt me!). Our mission was simple: to bake snickerdoodles and then to enjoy the fruit of our labor with some tea. And when I say "some tea", realize that this is an understatement. This particular friend has one of the most impressive tea collections I've ever seen. In fact, it's so impressive that I just had to document it. After all, it makes me sad to think that in about four months, she and her soon-to-be husband will be moving to Pasadena. It's a good thing I'm willing to travel for the pleasure of tea. :)
But clearly it wasn't just about the tea. There was the company (it's nice to have somebody with whom one can share one's dissertating woes) and the cookies. Oh, the cookies. It had been ages since I had thought of snickerdoodles. Being somebody who usually prefers chocolate chip cookies to sugar cookies, I'm pretty sure the last time was maybe home-ec class in middle school! But trust me when I say that snickerdoodles are one of the unsung heroes of the cookie club.
I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the simple combination of cinnamon and sugar, not to mention the great joy I derive from simply saying "snickerdoodle." And I won't lie to you: I was so taken by these cookies that, wanting to know more about their origins, I did a little google search. It wouldn't be right for me not to share my findings. According to one site, "New England cooks seem to have had a penchant for giving odd names to their dishes, apparently for no other reason than the fun of saying them. Snickerdoodles comes from a tradition of this sort that includes Graham Jakes, Jolly Boys, Branble, Tangle Breeches, and Kinkawoodles." The Joy of Cooking attributes the cookie to Germany, suggesting that the name is a corruption of the German word schneckennudeln (umm, can you blame anybody for corrupting that mouthful?), a type of cinnamon dusted sweet roll. And, although incredibly unlikely, my personal favorite is the suggestion that the cookie is related to the eponymous tall-tale hero, a "powerful pee-wee," who rides around in a peanut and fights evil with laughter.
In any case, regardless of where this cookie comes from, it's basically a little ball of perfection--sugary, spicy and light. Call a friend, bake these cookies and make a pot of tea. And giggle shamelessly when you say the name; that's half the fun.
Yields about 3 dozen cookies
The only way you might say we spruced these up was by using a delectable-smelling Vietnamese cinnamon. Also, our cookies didn't flatten, but I have to say that I quite enjoyed their round shape. They were like sugar mini-doughnuts.
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
-Combine 1 1/2 cups white sugar, butter, vanilla and eggs. Mix well.
-Stir in flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Blend well.
-Combine 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon.
-Then, shape dough into 1 inch balls (the dough might be hard to work with, easily fall apart. You can persist, as we did, or refrigerate the dough.).
-Roll balls of dough in sugar/cinnamon mixture and place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
- Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until set.
-Immediately remove from cookie sheets.