Sweet Charity


Sweet Charity

Many years ago my parents took me to see a play during the holiday season. This sticks in my mind because I remember that at the end of the play the actors stepped forward and asked for donations to the Actor’s Fund—the same way they do now for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. As the actors were speaking, several people in the audience stood up to leave, one of them grumbling to no one in particular, “Someone always has their hand out!”

(Obviously a certain grumbling someone must have gotten some bad egg nog that day.)

Now, I apologize, but whenever I think about this I chuckle because, 1.) in some absurd way it strikes me as funny, and because 2.) I can always think of better endings to the story. Perhaps he was visited by three ghosts that night, one for Christmas past, one for…oh, sorry, I think that’s been done.

No matter, for the “takeaway” (as they like to say in corporate America) was obviously not gleaned by little me from the stage that night. I don’t have any recollection of what play we were seeing, but the memory of Ebenezer Scrooge, live and in concert has never left me.

Thankfully the reality is that most folks are not like that, although at times we may need just a little reminder to be charitable. Charitable giving seems to get a bit more attention during the holiday season. While much of the attention gets focused on money, there are also the gifts of time and expertise.

A colleague recently drafted me to help with a holiday event she is coordinating on behalf of a children’s hospital that is headquartered at New York Presbyterian Hospital. She is getting a group of Wall Street-types together to sit down and make holiday cards for the kids. She is familiar with my cookie proclivities therefore volunteered my services to feed the volunteers. (I’m not sure if the hospital wants cookies for the kids. I’ll have to find out, but I suspect they are careful about the source of the food they feed the kids.)

The assignment was very specific: “I volunteered you to bake cookies for the people who will be making the cards. I told them you’d make Snickerdoodles. I love those, don’t you?”

Uh-oh. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I can only remember having a Snickerdoodle once in my life and being severely underwhelmed. They were just a touch too, um, “white bread” for my taste. Or are Snickerdoodles like liver: if you haven’t had it properly prepared you shouldn’t judge? (Yes, I just compared a cookie to liver. I like liver. Sorry.)

It gets worse. I can’t step out of the shadow of feeling that the name, “Snickerdoodle” is a touch too precious. The cookie I remember was almost catatonic in its softness, and undistinguished in flavor; a mushy sugar cookie. Who knows, maybe it came from a mix? (Can you imagine?)

I may be stuck with the name, but a dull cookie? From me? Never! How could I “goose” things a bit and make this cookie a bit more interesting? Mind you, I feel a responsibility to not stray too far from the Snickerdoodle’s known identity, but want to make the “best in class.”

Here’s the goal: this cookie is supposed to be a bit crispy on the outside, but a little soft on the inside (a chemical reaction that results from the unusual use of cream of tartar as the leavener). In addition, there should be an even coating of cinnamon and sugar. What is obviously in play here is the amount of cinnamon, and what kind of sugar to use.

Let’s start with the sugar. The basic recipe calls for plain white granulated sugar inside and out. Why not introduce a gentle note of crunch by using a large crystal sugar inside and out? Demerara sugar will give a slightly honey-ed note to the mild-mannered Snickerdoodle, and its large crystals will crackle with each bite. In addition, substituting it for some of the sugar in the batter with keep the cookie’s soft middle from being too mushy.

The cinnamon – sugar coating took a little work to get exactly the balance I wanted, but gave me yet another opportunity to add a little more personality. I started with just the demerara sugar and cinnamon, but the cinnamon took over. I found the right balance with half vanilla sugar, half demerara sugar, and the cinnamon. The result had a touch of cinnamon doughnut—a nice surprise.

Size matters here. I weighed half ounce portions of dough which baked into a cookie slightly larger than two inches in diameter. Any larger and I fear that the cookies may have had the dreaded mushy middles. Instead they have a springy, cakey quality—another happy “doughnutty” note.

A nice, gentle cookie, but the “doughnutty” notes jogged my memory. It is Hanukkah, and last year I was yearning for some kind of baked-not-fried Sufganyot, the little jelly doughnuts that have become such a popular festival of lights treat. A little jelly between two Snickerdoodles and I held in my hand, (ring the bell, please) a Sufganyot cookie. It was like a gift from above.

I mentioned briefly above that I weighed the portions of the dough. It is not a prerequisite. You can accomplish the same thing using a tablespoon, but a good digital scale can be a real time saver for folks who bake a lot. Convert recipes you use a lot to ounces instead of cups. Then you can pour ingredients right from the package into a bowl set on the scale. You’ll save time and get more consistent results. Digital scales make a great holiday gift for bakers too.

(Hint, hint.)


Click here for the recipe for Snickerdoodles.

If you’re feeling ambitious but need a bit of cookie baking technique and guidance, read the Butter Flour Eggs Cookie Primer 101 for some basic cookie-baking tips.


The Ronald McDonald House of New York is an amazing facility which provides a temporary “home-away-from-home” for pediatric cancer patients and their families. The Ronald McDonald House is supported entirely by private donations. Please read about this amazing place, and keep them in mind when considering your year-end charity donation.


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