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James Beard's Recipe Box: Snickerdoodle Cake



November 16, 2010


Snickerdoodle cakeWelcome to our third guest post about cooking from James Beard’s American Cookery. In this installment, blogger Debbie Koenig experiments with Beard's Snickerdoodle Cake. (You can find the guest post archive here.) In 1972, my baby brother was born. That’s right, I said my baby brother, as in he’s younger than me by quite a few years. Fine. Do you know what else was born in 1972, weighing nearly as much as that gurgling infant? James Beard’s American Cookery. This glorious doorstop of a cookbook includes more than 1,500 recipes and explores American home cooking in nearly encyclopedic fashion. A friend at Little, Brown was kind enough to send me a copy of the reissued James Beard's American Cookery, which includes a foreword by Tom Colicchio. In it he credits James Beard with laying the groundwork for many of the current crazes in food: TV cooking shows (Beard was on air in 1946), regional cooking, locavorism (though that word didn’t exist yet). Just thumbing through this book is an education in how America has eaten for the last 50 years. Many of the recipes are a scant paragraph long—back then you could just tell someone to “cream” the butter and sugar, without a dozen words explaining what size bowl to use, and what speed to set the mixer. For example, in the recipe I’m writing about today, it takes Beard fewer than 50 words to get from sifting to eating. The Snickerdoodle Cake (page 648), which also goes by Snipdoodle Cake, is almost ridiculously simple. With one bowl, a liquid measuring cup, and about five minutes, you can fill your kitchen with the cozy, homey scent of cinnamon. Breathe deeply while it bakes—that’s autumn in a baking dish, right there. I tossed in two chopped seckel pears and some vanilla extract, which upped the cozy factor even more. The result is tender, moist, quite sweet, and satisfying, in the way that only the simplest, most humble treats are. However you adapt it, this is a cake for non-bakers, for moms (and dads) who think they’re too busy to bake, but would love to surprise the family with a square of warm, fluffy goodness. And the best part just might be the little chef’s snack, a pre-cake nibble to stave off hunger while it bakes: cinnamon toast. If you play your cards right, you’ll have enough cinnamon sugar left over to make a slice or two. Debbie Koenig is a food writer who blogs at Words to Eat By. Her first cookbook, Parents Need to Eat, Too, will be published next year by HarperCollins.