Retro Recipes: Mabelle's Snickerdoodles, 1949


Photographs by Stephanie Butler

Welcome to Retro Recipes! Brought to you from the capable kitchen of Eat Me Daily's Stephanie Butler, each week revisits a preparation from the past that straddles the line between ingenious and absurd. This week: Mabelle's Snickerdoodles.

You can take your chocolate chips, your turtles, humbugs, your oatmeal raisins. Ginger drops, snowballs, thumbprints: they are all sawdust in my mouth. My heart belongs to the snickerdoodle. The benefits of a sugar cookie with the chewiness of a ranger cookie, all dressed up with plenty of cinnamon sugar, a true snickerdoodle is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. So when I saw a recipe for Mabelle's Snickerdoodle in James Beard's Fireside Cookbook (buy on Amazon), I stopped short.

Mabelle's Snickerdoodle recipe isn't filed in the Cookies section of the book; it's nestled among the Quick Breads squarely between Corn Meal Spoon Bread and French Pancakes. This is because, per Beard (or Mabelle), this particular snickerdoodle is a bread — the recipe calls to be spread in a baking pan, not scooped or rolled out and cut. It sounded like it had the potential to be a great cinnamon breakfast bread, so I decided to see what Mabelle was about and take her for a test spin.


A beauty of a book

I’ve talked about Betty Crocker in this space before, and her reissued Picture Cookbook, which seems to be the go-to book for folks looking for a little retro glamour in their meals. But fans of older cookbooks should certainly make a place on their shelves for James Beard’s Fireside Cookbook. Whereas Betty Crocker and her ilk haven’t aged well (Clam Puff, anyone?), Beard’s classic recipes will never go out of style.

Fireside is an early work, with none of the details and specifics of his later books on bread and pasta, for example, but therin lies the charm. This is, as the subtitle says, "Fine Cooking for the Beginner and Expert," and even a novice in the kitchen will be able to create a memorable meal with Beard’s calming voice and clear instructions. Which isn’t to say that an experienced cook won’t learn from this book: Beard has ambitious recipes here like calf’s head, and his section on sauces is exhaustive and excellent. The book had never let me down thus far, so I hoped for great things with Mabelle’s Snickerdoodle.


You say Schneckennudeln, I say snickerdoodle

Snickerdoodles are, depending on your source, either German, Dutch, or Amish. The name is possibly a bastardization of the German word Schneckennudeln, or perhaps a reference to a character in an early 20th century American children’s book. Even if no one can agree on the background, every snickerdoodle recipe I’ve seen involves rolling the dough into small balls and coating with cinnamon sugar before baking. This one just called for sifting together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, and then mixing in milk and an egg. Half a stick of melted butter follows, and then the whole thing goes into a 9 x 12 baking pan in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes. Beard didn’t mention greasing the pan, and I hoped that all the fat from the melted butter would keep the snickerdoodle from sticking.

Room for improvement

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. I pulled the dish from the oven at the 25 minute mark, and was greeted by a slighty-raised pan of what looked more like blondies than anything else. I wouldn’t by any means call it a "quick bread." Without waiting for the pan to cool, I cut myself a corner piece and burned my tongue. It tasted almost toffee-like, dense and chewy and buttery, like a good ANZAC biscuit — delicious, to be sure, but not at all like a traditional snickerdoodle. It was also very, very difficult to pry from the pan. It took a sharp knife and a small offset spatula to get out the cookies for photo purposes, and even then I had to patch up and smoosh together to be presentable.

There’s a simple way to salvage this recipe if you don’t feel like soaking a crumb-encrusted baking pan for two days afterwards. It’s more work, yes, but will produce lovely results: the consistency of the uncooked batter is perfect for piping directly on a lined sheet pan. You’d be able to control the size of the cookie, plus every bite would have some of the crusty edge bits, which was my favorite part of the corner piece I ate. They’d be great for ice cream sandwiches, or dipping in dulce de leche, or even topping with whipped cream and strawberries. I have big plans for Mabelle’s Snickerdoodles this summer. Well, Mabelle — with some modifications.

Recipe: Mabelle's Snickerdoodle

from The Fireside Cookbook by James Beard, 1949
one cup flour
one cup sugar
one teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
one egg
1/4 cup melted butter
Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon. Mix with milk and egg. Blend well and stir in the melted butter. Spread thinly in 9 by 12 inch baking pan, sprinkle with sugar, and bake in a 400 degree oven about 25 minutes.

–Stephanie Butler

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Comment Feed

  1. That is a wonderful illustration!

    For snickerdoodles, the Betty Crocker recipe is pretty iconic.

  2. Emily

    James Beard: kind of a dick, weird Snickerdoodle recipe.

  3. I absolutely love these retro pieces. I have a huge recipe book collection and I recently inherited my great-grandmother's cookbooks (Somehow I even ended up with a cookbook from the 50s devoted entirely to bananas, which I'm allergic to...). I have plans to go through and start cooking even the most obscure items, just for fun. So if you're ever short of ideas, I'd be happy to pass along whatever I have.

  4. Stephanie

    Gwen: That's awesome, a whole book of just banana recipes?!? I will certainly shoot you an email, I'd like to hear some of the titles and see if I can get my hands on them.

  5. I know! The pictures are really the biggest reason I keep it. They're all those perfectly terrifying, over the top, cliche cookbook pics. Feel free to email me any time. ( technicolorcheesewedge(at)yahoo(dot)com )
    The other place I immediately thought of for ideas is Don't know if you've seen it already but it's certainly worth a look. I've been through the whole thing just for laughs and there are plenty of them.

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