"Snickerdoodles” are drop cookies topped with cinnamon sugar that are cited in print from at least 1889. The cookie is simple, but the origin of the cookie’s fanicful name is difficult to determine. James Beard and others believe a German or Dutch origin to “snickerdoodle,” possibly from “Schnecken noodles” ("Schnecken" = snail). “Snickerdoodles” have gone by many other colorful names, such as “snip doodles,” “kinkawoodles,” and “tangle breeches.”
“Snickerdoodles” were popular from Boston (New England) to Philadelphia (Pennsylvania Dutch areas) by about 1900.
A snickerdoodle is a soft sugar cookie rolled in cinnamon sugar. It has a characteristically crackly surface, and can be crisp or soft, depending on preference. They typically are easy to make. Some variants include nutmeg, raisins, chocolate chips, or nuts. In modern recipes, the leavening agent is usually baking powder which, in baking, is most commonly used in cakes but not often in cookies.
Nobody is sure where either the cookie or its name originated. Various food historians have shown that biscuits and cookies similar to the Snickerdoodle have been recorded in the Ancient Roman era and Medieval Europe. There are some beliefs that the Snickerdoodle came to be and orignated in southern Florida, just outside Fort Lauderdale. In Renaissance England, a cookie called a “jumble” was popular in the cuisine. Later, Germans were known to have added more spices and a variety of different dried fruits, eventually evolving into the gingerbread cookie. Cookbooks from the 18th and 19th centuries have also contained recipes comparable to the Snickerdoodle.
The origin of the name “Snickerdoodle” has given rise to many theories but few facts. The Joy of Cooking claims that snickerdoodles are probably German in origin, and that the name is a corruption of the German word for “snail dumpling” (Schneckennudeln, or cinnamon-dusted sweet rolls). Similarly, one author states that “the word ‘snicker’ may have come from a Dutch word `snekrad,’ or the German word ‘Schnecke,’ both describing a snail-like shape.” However, another author believes the name came from a New England tradition of fanciful, whimsical cookie names, and yet another cites a series of tall tales around a hero named Snickerdoodle from the early 1900s.
What’s Cooking America
Cookies as we know them in America were originally brought to the United States by our English, Scottish, and Dutch immigrants. Earlier names for cookies such as Snickerdoodles and Cry Babies originated with the New England states. Even with its early history, cookies did not become popular until about a hundred years ago. In earlier American cookbooks, cookies were given no space of their own but were listed at the end of the cake chapter. They were called by such names as “jumbles,” “Plunkets,” and “Cry Babies.” The names were extremely puzzling and whimsical. 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.
An illustrated monthly magazine
edited by Marion Harland
April to September 1889
Pg. 58 (April 1889):
1/2 cup of butter.
2 cups of sugar.
1 cup of milk.
3 cups of flour.
2 teaspoonfuls cream tartar.
1 teaspoonful soda.
1/2 teaspoonful of salt.
Cream the butter and sugar together, add the beaten whites of the eggs, then the yolks. Dissolve the soda in the milk and stir into the mixture, and then add the flour in which the cream tartar and salt have been mixed. Bake in flat biscuit tins about twenty minutes in a moderate oven. Sift cinnamon and sugar over the cake before putting to bake. Cut into squares when cold. Easy to make when hurried.
16 September 1891, Columbus (OH) Enquirer-Sun, pg. 4 ad:
ORIGINAL. No. 68.
BY NELLIE CAMPBELL BEDFORD.
One-half cup butter; two cups sugar; two eggs, one cup milk; three cups flour; one-quarter teaspoonful salt; two level teaspoonfuls Cleveland’s Baking Powder; one teaspoonful cinnamon; three teaspoonfuls powdered sugar. Cream the butter and sugar; add the beaten egg yolks and salt, and alternately the milk and flour. Sift in the baking powder and spread in two shallow baking pans. Mix the cinnamon and sugar and sift over the top. Bake in a moderate oven and cut in squares when cold.
Use only Cleveland’s baking powder, the proportions are made for that.
14 June 1898, Boston (MA) Daily Globe, pg. 8:
Three quarters of a cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup of milk, 3 cups of flour, 2 eggs, 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon of soda. Mix; drop on a tin in spoonfuls, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, and bake in quick oven.
M. Elizabeth Adams.
20 October 1901, Idaho Daily Statesman (Boise, ID), pg. 11, col. 1:
“Snickerdoodles” is the somewhat fantastic name of quickly made little cakes especially dear to the children’s heart. A receipt for them copied from an old scrapbook says: “Stir together two cups of sugar and half a cup of butter. When creamy, add two well-beaten eggs, then one cup of milk, with a teaspoonful of soda dissolved in it; and, lastly, and two and a half cups of flour, with two teaspoonfuls of cream of tartar and half a spoonful of salt. Beat the batter thoroughly, and bake in shallow pans, dusting the top of the cake before serving with cinnamon and sugar. Bake fifteen minutes, and when cool cut in squares. This receipt will make two panfuls, which will cut into twenty-four squares.”
20 November 1905, Boston (MA) Daily Globe, pg. 10:
Trixey B.—Is this what you want? I cut it out of the Globe some two years ago:
Cream 3/4 cup butter and 1 cup of sugar, then add 2 well-beaten eggs, 3/4 cup of milk and 2 1/2 cups of flour sifted with 2 teaspoonfuls cream of tartar and 1 teaspoonful of soda. Beat well, drop on buttered tin in spoonfuls, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and bake in quick oven.
The L. W. Cook Book
by the Loyal Workers Society of the Advent Christian Church
Springfield, MA: The Plymouth Press
SNICKERDOODLES—One cup sugar; 1/2 cup milk; 1 large spoon butter; 1 egg; 1 teaspoon cream tartar; 1/2 teaspoon soda; 2 cups flour; a few raisins; drop in a pan and sprinkle a little cinnamon and sugar over each one, and bake.
-- MRS. EDW. E. GOODELL.
2 June 1911, Hospers (Iowa) Tribune, pg. 7, col. 4:
Two cups of sugar, two eggs, cup sweet milk, six tablespoonfuls melted lard, cup chopped raisins, one quart flour, tablespoonful of cream tartar, half teaspoonful of soda, flavor to taste. Drop with teaspoon on greased pan and bake in hot oven.
26 November 1931, Helena (MT) Daily Independent, pg. 8, col. 1:
Snickerdoodles are spicy little drop cookies that are good to serve with shortbread.
One cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, 1 egg, 1/2 cup seeded and chopped raisins, 1/2 cup milk, 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon.
Beat egg until light, beating in sugar and softened (not melted) butter. Mix and sift flour, salt and baking powder and add alternately with milk to first mixture. Stir in raisins and drop by teaspoonfuls onto oiled and floured tins. Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle (Col. 2—ed.) over cookies. Bake 15 minutes in a moderate oven.
Out of Vermont Kitchens
by Trinity Mission of Trinity Church, Rutland, Vermont
Burlington, VT: Free Press Printing Co.
Pennsylvania Dutch Cookie Recipe.
1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 level tsp. baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tsp. powdered sugar
Cream butter and sugar, add egg yolks and salt. Add milk and flour alternately, the baking powder having been silted in the flour, and the beaten egg whites last. Spread in shallow pan and silt powdered sugar and cinnamon over the top.
Mrs. Newman K. Chaffee.
James Beard’s American Cookery
by James Beard
Boston, MA: Little, Brown
In the middle to late nineteenth century regional cookbooks these appear under many names. The earliest church society cookbooks from the Hudson River region call them Schnecken Noodles,
Schneckenoodles, or Snecke Noodles. Lower Midwest cookbooks, especially those of Kentucky and Missouri, list them as Snickerdoodles. Most recipes differ very little from crinkle cookies. Some recipes include 3/4 cup raisins with the sifted flour mixture.
7 May 1980, New York (NY) Times, pg. C4:
Q. You have often mentioned odd names of curious dishes from Britain and America. How about snickerdoodle?
A. I have tasted a recipe for snickerdoodle that came from Tennessee. Essential it is a short (which is to say rich) cookie that is flavored with cinnamon. I do not know the origin of the name, but it has been proposed that it is of German origin and derived from the word Schnecken, i.e., Schnecken noodles.
Why would the Germans call these snail noodles? Because of the swirly look on the cookie?