Saturday, March 15, 2014

(Wine and) snickerdoodles, snow and watercolors, and ....

The gentleman friend was rather crabby. He was due to leave for the tropics the next day, a prospect which should have thrilled him. "Going home," "back to my people," he calls it. Maybe. Only it's not much of a thrill or a vacation when a man has to launch himself at the problems of recovering the estate, whilst convicted criminals have just used their right of appeal to, perhaps, finger a family friend in the outrage. Then he must fire bad lawyers and hire better ones, even as he bleeds money. Will it all prove so very worthwhile, just to get that hacienda away from winter weather?

Maybe. As I drove home though the snowy woods, admiring the views, I thought "I must learn to paint watercolors." Watercolors, so I have read and so I have been instructed in art appreciation classes, require much training and discipline on the part of the artist. ("And yet they're the first paints we give children," a professor long ago huffed.) One opens the little tray, picks up a brush, wets it, and then tries to layer on washes of color judiciously enough to let plenty of white paper show through any scene, thus giving the style "its characteristic sparkle." I saw lots of sparkling white as I drove, which made me think that, done up as a watercolor, this would be easy. I saw a wash of very pale, translucent blue sky layered over with delicate stipples of rich brown -- that's the snow-covered branches of bushes and trees -- going back forever to a wintry-white vanishing point. The long firm streaks of brownish-black crowding the foreground would be the trunks of trees half slathered in snow and shadow, marshalled against the declining late-afternoon sun. All the rest of the space would be judiciously exposed watercolor-white paper. At the bottom of the picture plane would lay shadows. They are a challenge. Are shadows on the snow blue, or blue-ish, or the most faint and palest of all purples? Or are they grey? Could we, the artist, take a bit of artistic license, and touch on a frail and lovely pink that wasn't really there, but that often seems to be there in a winter sunset or a winter cloud?

But we intend to bake snickerdoodles. We venture from friends to snow to watercolors to snickerdoodles because, -- well, the friend does art, too, and doesn't like snow and had never heard of, or tasted, a snickerdoodle until we at Pluot baked them for him. And these cookies have to do with wine, which closes the circle of our blog-interest nicely. Don't you think?

Snickerdoodles of course are those rich butter cookies whose variations always include a generous teaspoon of cinnamon. Of their strange name, the Betty Crocker Ultimate Cookie Book says only that it has "amused people for centuries.” According to the American Heritage Cookbook (1965), “New England cooks had a penchant for giving odd names to their dishes ... snickerdoodles come from a tradition of this sort that includes Graham Jakes, Jolly Boys, Brambles, Tangle Breeches, and Kinkawoodles.” Every cookery source on God's clean earth, in print or on line since 1965, quotes this asseveration, so it must be true. However, the recipe for Snickerdoodles which American Heritage then offers includes nuts, currants, and raisins. If you have ever eaten glorious, real, plain Snickerdoodles, I feel sure you will agree all that clutter is not necessary and is close to being an abomination

My version of snickerdoodles, from a junior high school home ec. class by way of the Betty Crocker cookbook I should think, calls for cream of tartar and baking soda as the leavening agents. This may be a hint as to the recipe’s age. Before the invention of baking powder, cooks would have used baking soda to raise this "small cake." But baking soda needs an acid to work with, to create the carbon dioxide bubbles that lift a batter.

Many acids will do the trick; which is why recipes calling for baking soda may also call for lemon or orange juice. But cream of tartar, another acid, serves even better, being flavorless and conveniently available as a dry powder. Mixing two parts cream of tartar to one part baking soda creates what old-fashioned cooks would have called a single-acting baking powder, that is, a leavening which works as soon as a batter is moistened. A baked good made this way must go in the oven as soon as possible, to capture the bubbling and rising that is already going on. Recipes calling for baking soda and a simple liquid acid like orange juice should warn you of this.

When in the early1800s some bright soul had the idea of adding corn starch to a single-acting baking powder, he found himself with a ready-made leavening which could act twice. The corn starch kept the other two powders dry enough to permit them to raise a batter when it was moistened, and again when it went into the hot oven. To this day our commercial baking powders, dependable and convenient, their soda and acid all in one, are still labeled -- mysteriously, for most of us -- “double acting.”

Cream of tartar itself is, or once was, a byproduct of wine making. Tartaric acid (ah-ha), naturally present in grapes, collects on the inside of old wine barrels. When scraped off and mixed with potassium hydroxide, it creates a usable salt, potassium bitartrate or cream of tartar. If you have ever seen strange, harmless crystals clinging to a cork, or floating in a wine bottle, you have seen a wine's tartrates precipitating out. They especially cling to a cork when a wine has been abruptly chilled. The nice people at Wikipedia tell us that these are also called "wine diamonds," a very pretty term. Almost as cute as snickerdoodles.

Now you may bake. And after that, paint. We'll see what stories he brings home from the tropics.


Have ready: ½ cup butter, softened; 3/4 cup sugar; 1 egg

Mix in a bowl: 1 and ½ cups flour, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, ½ teaspoon baking soda, 1/8 teaspoon salt

Mix in a separate bowl: 4 Tablespoons sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400. Cream together the butter and sugar until light, and then add the egg. Mix thoroughly, and add the dry flour mixture. Combine well, and shape the dough into balls. Roll them in the cinnamon sugar mixture, and bake on ungreased cookie sheets 8-10 minutes. Makes about 30-35 cookies.


1 comment:

  1. This post has me craving snickerdoodles! Thanks for the recipe, I can't wait to try it!


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