Why This Recipe Works
With their crinkly tops, slightly tangy flavor, and liberal dusting of cinnamon sugar, chewy snickerdoodles are a New England favorite. We quickly determined that cream of tartar is essential to these cookies. Not only is it responsible for their characteristic subtle tang, but, combined with baking soda, it creates a short-lived leavening effect that causes the cookies to rise and fall quickly while baking, leaving them with a distinctive crinkly appearance. Some traditional snickerdoodle recipes contain vegetable shortening, and with good reason: Unlike butter, shortening contains no water, so cookies made with shortening tend to hold their shape rather than spread out. We found that using equal amounts of shortening and butter gave us the best of both worlds—thick, nicely shaped cookies that were chewy and buttery-tasting. Vanilla proved to be a distraction, so we left it out. Rolling the balls of dough in cinnamon sugar—we liked a full tablespoon for warm spice flavor—imparted a spicy sweet crunch to the cookies. For the best results, we baked the cookies one sheet at a time and pulled them from the oven just as they were beginning to brown but were still soft and puffy in the middle. They continued to cook as they cooled on the baking sheet, and were perfectly done and chewy once cooled.