Do y’all remember American Girl?
Before you respond, “But Teresa, American Girl is still a thing!” just let me get a little old and crotchety here and say it’s not the same.
I mean the heyday of American Girl. The late ’90s, early 2000s. Before the string of straight-to-DVD films adapted from books based on now dozens of fictional girls in different time periods.
Or at least that was the heyday for me and American Girl. I was the proud owner of one of their custom-made-to-look-like-you-it’s-totally-not-creepy dolls and a Bitty Baby (both gifts from my grandmother), and on a trip to Chicago we were taken to the flagship American Doll Store (!!!!! — at the time) where my parents purchased me a Samantha doll (my then-favorite). My sister and I loved the historical dolls, even though neither of us played much with dolls in general. (We preferred using doll accessories with our Beanie Babies). She had Felicity.
Modern day American Girl has sprawled into an even more impressive capitalist machine than it was then, and it’s just too much for me to keep up with. So many new dolls! So many new stories and characters! They’ve moved away from their history focus, which bums me out a little. The whole thing is intense, but at least it’s not Barbie.
Anyway, back in my personal American Girl heyday, we had a subscription to American Girl Magazine. And let me tell you–we loved it. My sister and I read that magazine cover to cover. Years ago we found a box in the basement stuffed with dozens of these magazines, which we kept because we might have latent hoarder tendencies which will doubtlessly manifest fully in the decades to come and leave us as old women toddling through what used to be a guest bedroom but turned into storage for VHS tapes, American Girl Magazine, stuffed animals we won at the fair, and enormous cardboard state quarter maps.
Now, I don’t remember that much about the content of these magazines. But I distinctly remember an essay a girl had sent in describing her experience of entering a cookie baking competition. Her recipe? Snickerdoodles.
I was so caught up in the drama. She had made it through preliminary rounds. She had a secret ingredient. She had time and supplies to bake three batches, and she could choose her favorite to send to the judges. In her first batch, she didn’t roll the dough in the cinnamon-sugar mix. For the second, she forgot her secret ingredient and over-baked them.
But the third batch? Oh, man. Those were perfect. Golden brown with a perfect cinnamon-sugar coating.
I don’t know if she won. I can’t remember. Maybe I’ll comb through those old magazines and find out. I hope she did, because she impacted my life in a very deep way. She changed the way I bake snickerdoodles.
See, her secret ingredient was black pepper.
In cookies? What was this madness? It was insanity in my eight-year-old mind. On par with chocolate-covered potato chips, mint jelly, or ice cream without bubble gum in it.
But ever since, every time I’ve baked snickerdoodles, I’ve put black pepper in the dough. I honestly can’t say if it makes a big difference, because I’ve only ever baked them this way. It’s easily left out. You might not even be able to taste it. BUT… let’s pay homage to American Girl Magazine Snickerdoodle Girl (as she has been known in my mind the past 15 years). Let’s use the pepper.
Also, I’ve adapted this recipe to not use cream of tartar. Almost every snickerdoodle cookie recipe you’ll come across uses cream of tartar, and it’s just something I never have on hand. If you do have cream of tartar and want to use it, substitute 2 tsp cream of tartar + 1 tsp baking soda for the baking powder.
1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup white sugar
2 tsp cinnamon powder (or to taste)
Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add eggs one at a time. In a separate bowl, whisk dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until a dough forms.
Wrap dough in cling wrap and chill for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350. Whisk sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Form balls from the dough and roll them in the cinnamon sugar until coated. Place on greased cookie sheet.
For thinner cookies, flatten cookie dough balls with the palm of your hand or a flat-bottomed glass. Bake in the upper portion of the oven for 10-12 minutes.
After typing out this whole story, I’ve realized this might be an essay from a different magazine. But my heart tells me it was American Girl. So thank you, American Girl Magazine Snickerdoodle Girl. I hope you won the prize and that you’re still baking some awesome cookies.