snickerdoodle experiments

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Uh…sorta forgot to write down which cookie is which, but, does it really matter?  They’re just about identical.

I don’t cook with shortening.  I just don’t.  Look, I know a tablespoon here or there isn’t going to kill me, but my granola-like reasons go beyond my health.  For one thing, it kind of grosses me out.  Mmm, chemically solidified oil, yum.  No.  Also, and here is where I really start to sound like a crazed liberal, but I try to vote with my dollar.  So if I don’t like how a product is produced or what the product stands for, I try not to buy it.

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Besides, shortening isn’t any good.  Its only advantage is it doesn’t melt as easily as butter, but if you know how to work with butter correctly, that isn’t an issue.

I absolutely don’t judge you if you cook with shortening, okay?  To each his own.  I’m fully aware that I’m being stubborn and probably impractical.  If I was at your house and you made a light, flaky pie crust with shortening, I would absolutely eat it and enjoy it.  And heck, good for you for not being as close-minded as I apparently am.

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So.  When I saw that Cooks Illustrated requires shortening in their snickerdoodle recipe, I had my doubts.  Yes, maybe the cookies would spread just a tiny bit more if they’re made with only butter, but is it significant?  To see how big of a difference the shortening would make, I made the recipe both ways and compared.  (Yes, I had to buy shortening to do this.)

I made the dough and baked some immediately.  I sent most of those away, but my initial impression was that the cookies were identical.  I also froze some of each batch after forming it into balls, then toted in on a 9-hour drive for vacation, then refroze it, then defrosted it and left it in the fridge for a few days until I finally got around to baking it.  Way to respect my food, right?  Fortunately, they came out just fine.

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There were four of us comparing the cookies, and the others didn’t know which cookie had shortening and which used all butter.  Here are some of the comments:

  • Shortening: uniform texture; dry; generic; tastes storebought
  • All-butter: buttery; delicate; firm edges, soft middle; tastes like a snickerdoodle should taste; better

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butter + shortening

Are those conclusive results or what?  Also, I didn’t see an issue with the all-butter cookies spreading.  But in the interest of full disclosure, one of my friends didn’t really notice a difference between the two, so while the all-butter cookie did undoubtedly have a better, more buttery flavor and the other tasted a little flat in comparison, the difference isn’t huge.  Both cookies were good, of course.

But, I will certainly be leaving the shortening out of my snickerdoodles (and my pie crust and my biscuits and everything else) in the future.

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all butter

Printer Friendly Recipe
Snickerdoodles
(from Cooks Illustrated via Annie’s Eats)

Makes about 30 cookies

I recommend replacing the shortening with more (4 tablespoons) butter.  Also, I made my cookies smaller, didn’t flatten them, and baked them for about 2 minutes less.  I only ever bake one sheet of cookies at a time.

2¼ cups (11¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened but still cool
¼ cup vegetable shortening
1½ cups (10½ ounces) granulated sugar, plus 3 tablespoon for rolling dough
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, for rolling dough

1. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions.  Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt; set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, shortening and 1½ cups sugar on medium speed until well combined, 1 to 1½ minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and beat again until combined, about 30 seconds.  Add in the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 20 seconds.

2. In a small, shallow bowl, combine the 3 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon for rolling the dough.  Stir or shake well to combine.  Working with a heaping tablespoon of dough each time, roll the dough into 1½-inch balls.  Roll the balls in the cinnamon sugar mixture and place them on the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.  Use a drinking glass with a flat bottom to gently flatten the dough balls to ¾-inch thickness (butter the bottom of the glass before starting, and dip it in sugar between cookies if it begins to stick).

3. Bake until the edges of the cookies are beginning to set and the center are soft and puffy, 9-11 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time.  Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets 2-3 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Comments

  1. Dynila says:

    I’m not a huge fan of shortening myself, but I didn’t realize it was just acting as a butter substitute in baking. Does that mean I can just replace shortening with butter 1:1 in baking? Cause that’d be awesome.

  2. bridget says:

    Dynila – That’s pretty much what I do, but it isn’t without risk. Shortening does have some different properties than butter, so substituting butter can affect the outcome of your baking. It’s usually minor though.

  3. Julia says:

    My husband loves snickerdoodles but I hate shortening so I never made them. Then I found Sweet Melissa’s recipe that uses only butter and they are AMAZING. So soft and chewy, perfection. http://juliatylerfoodblog.wordpress.com/2008/05/21/snickerdoodles/

  4. Hélène says:

    Love snickerdoodles. I have been using White on Rice Couple recipe. Yours look delicious.

  5. katie says:

    I am so glad you posted this. I had just about convinced myself to give shortening another chance. Now I know I won’t bother! Thanks!

  6. Elizabeth says:

    I almost never use shortening except in certain cookies, but is it possible that you had the opinion of the shortening cookies you did because you knew which ones were shortening and which weren’t and went into it convinced the butter ones would taste better? I know when I know I’m eating something with an ingredient I don’t think I like, I never like the dish. Conversely, if I have no idea what ingredients are in something, I may like it even if it has something in it that I don’t like.

  7. ~L.K. says:

    I used to use shortening only to coat my pans, rather than butter. However I then heard about parchment paper and have not used shortening since. (As my brother is a baker, I have an unlimited supply of parchment paper. Along with walnuts and butter. He has a tendency to buy too much supplies. He likes to have extra, just in case. Of course, this isn’t always a bad thing.) My family doesn’t use shortening either. We never have.

  8. grace says:

    although i don’t mind using shortening occasionally, i’m thrilled that you’ve proven that butter does, in fact, belong in snickerdoodles (perhaps the world’s finest cookie). great experiment!

  9. bridget says:

    Elizabeth – The comments I listed above about each cookie aren’t mine. Those were what my friends thought, and they didn’t know which cookie had shortening and which had only butter.

  10. Branny says:

    Now what to do with that giant vat of partially consumed shortening?

  11. Wendy says:

    mmmmm….butter. Love snickerdoodles.

  12. Erin says:

    And now I’m craving Snickerdoodles!

  13. Emily Rose says:

    I really dislike shortening in cookies also, but I do think that it makes a pretty flaky pie crust when combined with a bit of butter for flavor. Either way, your cookies look absolutely delicious!

  14. Manggy says:

    Well, even if anyone had convinced themselves that the butter cookies were better, if there’s hardly any difference, it would probably be better to go the butter route anyway. I don’t like shortening either :/ But I do expect the butter ones to taste better, unless the shortening has (ugh) butter flavor (which incidentally also comes in bottles!).
    I’ve only made pie crust with shortening once, but I find that butter is better-tasting, if a little messy (as it melts all over– I’m pretty sure I do it wrong all the time, yet I don’t mind the baked results). What I haven’t tried is lard. I would love to someday, though :)

  15. Tessa says:

    Great post. I never use shortening, especially after reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. I mean, if you put a tub of shortening outside with the lid off, not even fruit flies will go near it. And it won’t go rancid. I think that’s when you know something is wrong. Team butter!

  16. cindy harris says:

    I am with you 100%.
    “I trust cows more than chemists”!
    Love your blog.

  17. CME25 says:

    I do have to say that Crisco’s butter-flavored shortening goes into my chocolate-chip cookies and pastry dough. For pie crusts, I always use lard– beef lard (or even bacon fat) used with butter ALWAYS tastes better than veg shortening+butter in pie crust. But to each their own. :)
    I 2nd Branny… what to do with the remaining vat of shortening?!

  18. Baker Drew says:

    I just made these, and I can definitely tell the difference in flavor by using just butter. I am still adjusting to a recent move to 4,500 ft altitude and a new oven (that burns 50 degrees hotter than it should), so my first run turned out a little flat, but I will definitely be making these again.

  19. bridget says:

    Baker Drew – I’ve made snickerdoodles at high altitude (a different recipe) and they didn’t turn out nearly as well as they normally do. They flattened into pancakes, stuck to the pan, crisped all the way through… I think high altitude cooking baking takes some significant tweaks, although I’m not an expert. Good luck!

  20. Rachel says:

    These snickerdoodles look delish!! Yumm!!!

    I also despise shortening. However, there is another alternative that is not laden with the evils of hydrogenated fat- Palm Oil. It is very similar to shortening and what used to be used as shortening before the big switch over to hydrogenated/trans fat. I agree 100% -butter tastes better and is better for you, and can easily be substituted in any recipe. I almost always use butter in my baking except for fondant- you really need shortening, so in comes the Palm Oil!!

  21. Snickerdoodles are a family tradition since I was a kid. And I’m continuing my mom’s tradition of baking and having them for our tree decorating that we usually do Thanksgiving weekend!! It signals the beginning of our Christmas season.

    That being said….I do not and will not buy shortening. Have always been grossed out by it. I use ALL butter when making the snickerdoodles as well. They always turn out great….nice and chewy! We make a ton and they freeze really well (even the batter).

    Love snickerdoodles and they are great for getting the kids involved. They like to do all the rolling of the balls in cinammon/sugar!

  22. Jane says:

    I use a Betty Crocker recipe (both my mom & my mother in law both use it as well) and it says “part shortening” (or maybe part butter, I forget now). I never knew what that meant so I always use 1/2 & 1/2. I use regular shortening, not butter flavor. I’ve tried them w/all butter but no one here likes the flavor and contrary to some comments above, we find the all butter ones are drier, crunchier, and get rock hard after a short while. So that is odd, no?

    I do buy the smallest possible amount of shortening possible and it still goes bad before I use even half of it as snickerdoodles are the only thing I use it for.

  23. Laura says:

    I have one particular cookie recipe that I absolutely love- except that it has shortening. I have it, I use it, but I don’t like to. So I think you’ve inspired me to try the cookie without it and see what happens.

  24. ezmer says:

    The only problem with using Palm Oil is that in order to grow it they destroy acres and acres of diverse rain forest. So…healthier for who, really?

  25. Elizabeth (gpointewife) says:

    So, of course. I go to my trusted Betty Crocker cookbook to make Snickerdoodles and it calls for shortening.

    Instead of using The Googles to see if I can sub it out with butter. This is the first place I come. Of COURSE you have a comparison. Which is why I heart your blog the best…

    I may chill the dough a bit before baking to prevent some of the spreading (even though you said it didn’t really make much of a difference)….

  26. bridget says:

    Elizabeth – I baked most of these when the dough was somewhat chilled as well, if I recall. Maybe that’s why they didn’t spread at all.

  27. Heather says:

    Snickerdoodles have never been one of my favorite cookies, but one of my co-workers brought these to work and I fell in love with them. I asked him for the recipe and was happily surprised when he brought me a print out from your blog since I have followed it for a while. These are in my oven right now and I can’t wait to share them with my family for Christmas.

  28. seema says:

    i dont have shortening and now im glad about it these cookes were so good and easy people are thinking im now a
    pro cheif . thank tu so much for posting this recipe i love it,my family loves it,my freinds love it.

  29. Aaron says:

    Uhh you’re way off on your info! 1. Butter is almost 20% water so when swapping it with shortening you are adding moisture to your recipe. This doesn’t matter in some recipes, but in some it makes a difference and you need to adjust the recipe. 2. Shortening has a higher melting point than butter, which means it will spread less before the starch in the recipe sets the cookie. 3. As I already said, shortening is pure fat, and besides lard it is one of the ony viable solid at room temp fats for baking. People in the south don’t use it because they are disgusting fatties, they use it because it produces less gluten and therefore a flakier more tender pie crust or biscuit or whatever. My point is there are reasons for using shortening -it is a tool that has different properties than butter. That being said, butter tastes wonderful and shortening does not, so I’m with you on the flavor argument.

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