Wandering in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco the other day, I came across a street cart called Sweet Constructions. There, among many delicious looking delicacies (pictured above), I saw what looked like a mini cinnamon bun but the sign said snickerdoodles. How exciting! I took a sample home (along with its creator's email address) to see if I could duplicate it.
It's a good thing I got that email address. My first attempt, while not necessarily disastrous, wasn't quite as perky as my sample, which you can see an example of on the far left of the photo above. My cookies really flattened out and the spiral was barely there. So I emailed Kate, a co-owner of Sweet Constructions, with my dilemma.
I asked her if she had any tips for dealing with the spreading and the semi-spiraling. Should I roll them up in individual strips? Should I use shortening in place of some of the butter? Here's Kate's reply, which is chock-full of tips for baking cookies:
Your first method of rolling out the dough, adding the cinnamon sugar, and then rolling it up is the method we use, and probably much easier than individual strips! When we make the swirls, we chill the dough, then roll it out into a rectangle between two sheets of parchment paper (feel free to use a little flour - it makes this much easier). We sprinkle all but about the bottom half-inch or so with the cinnamon sugar, gently press the sugar into the dough, and then use the parchment to help roll the dough up into a long roll. Keeping the lower edge free of the cinnamon sugar helps the edge stick to the rest of the roll. We wrap the roll in parchment and put it in the freezer to chill. (A useful tip for all roll cookies: to keep the rolls of dough from flattening on one side while they cool, we use cut-down mailing tubes to store them in the fridge or freezer.)
Once the dough is completely chilled, we cut off 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch slices, dip the slices in more cinnamon sugar, and place them on a cookie sheet to warm up a bit. If the slices aren't completely round, you can gently squish them into shape once the dough is at room temperature. Bake the snickerdoodles as you normally would.
On butter vs. shortening: I'm definitely not an expert on this since we tend to use all butter in most of our cookies. We do have one cookie where we replaced a bit of the butter with oil, which seems to help keep it softer, and we do use Earth Balance sticks (a type of non-hydrogenated shortening) to replace the butter in our vegan cookies. But our snickerdoodles use 100% butter.
From what I've read, shortening has a higher melting point than butter, so all-butter cookies will spread more before they set. Replacing some of the butter with shortening would reduce spread, and might be puffier - I'd love to hear how your two recipes compare when baked!
If you don't want to use shortening to reduce spread, some other things that might help include: letting the dough cool for longer before you roll it into spirals (we often let ours sit overnight in the fridge), putting the cookies in the oven while the dough is still slightly cool, making sure the slices are relatively thick, and reducing the amount of baking soda slightly. And of course for the second round of baking, be sure the baking sheets have had a chance to cool down before you use them again.
I also just checked one of my favorite resources for baking questions — Shirley Corriher's book Bakewise. She does recommend using half shortening, half butter to decrease spread. She also suggests using a higher-protein flour (unbleached flour or bread flour) and letting the dough chill overnight.
I hope this helps!
(Let us pause here for a moment to appreciate the joy of dealing with a small local company whose owner is passionate about her products.)
So I took Kate's advice, rolled up the chilled cookie dough like a jelly roll and gave it a try. Still not puffy. But! The spiral was nice and obvious, and they tasted really good, so I'm going to declare victory. The shortening may be the solution for more puffiness but I'm actually so pleased with this cookie (pictured above) that I don't want to mess with it.
• If you're ever in the Mission on Sunday afternoons, look for Kate's Sweet Constructions cart on the corner of 20th and Valencia. They are also planning on being regulars at the Off The Grid street cart event held every Friday at Fort Mason, SF. Or, follow them on twitter for other opportunities to sample their delicious treats!
• One recipe for snickerdoodles: Super-Soft Snickerdoodle Cookies
Related: How Can I Make Snickerdoodle Balls?