5 Ingredients or Fewer Big Little Recipes Cookie What to Cook

Snickerdoodle Shortbread Tastes Classic, but Skips Several Ingredients

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don’t count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we’re guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re setting up two cookies on a blind date.


Snickerdoodles have been an American favorite since the late 19th century, when a cooking instructor and newspaper columnist named Cornelia Campbell Bedford (her friends called her “Nellie”) created a sugar cookie bar that was dressed to the nines with cinnamon.

According to Anne Byrn in American Cookie, the recipe went “viral,” which, 128 years ago, meant “the bar cookie was discussed in newspaper columns daily for the next year.”

Pressing still-crumbly shortbread dough into the pan ensures a tender, sandy result. Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. PROP STYLIST: BROOKE DEONARINE. FOOD STYLIST: SAMANTHA SENEVIRATNE.

Today, snickerdoodles are still popular (since our site launched a decade ago, we’ve collected plenty, from tea-infused to Nutella-stuffed), but they’ve changed a lot since Nellie. In the 1930s, the default fat shifted from butter to vegetable shortening, and the shape, from bar to scoop-and-drop. And while we’ve since shifted back to butter, the cookie’s original shape never made a similar comeback.

Let’s change that.

When I set out to make a snickerdoodle bar, I didn’t start with a traditional snickerdoodle dough (aka sugar cookie dough). Instead, I looked to something much simpler: shortbread. This classic is the ultimate Big Little cookie, with only three primary ingredients: flour, sugar, and butter. Modern snickerdoodle recipes, meanwhile, tally up closer to ten (thanks to eggs, baking soda, cream of tartar, etc).

The question then becomes: How do you snickerdoodle-ify shortbread? It goes without saying that we’re going to add cinnamon. But just adding it to the dough turned out too subtle—as did adding it to the dough and sprinkling it on top.

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Then I remembered one of my favorite baking tricks: the sugar-crust. I learned this technique from my friend Julia Blaine, who taught me that instead of greasing and flouring a cake pan, you can grease and sugar it. Not only does this discourage sticking, but it leaves a sparkly, crunchy, sugary crust on the outside of the cake.

Why not extend the same favor to a cookie?

In this case, we’ll mix together cinnamon and sugar, then use that to coat a buttered 8×8-inch pan. There will be some leftover—and good—because that will get sprinkled on top. It’s a lot like rolling snickerdoodle dough balls in cinnamon sugar, but you only have to do it once.

The result is a shortbread that thinks it’s a snickerdoodle. Or a snickerdoodle that thinks it’s a shortbread. Or, better yet, a snickerdoodle that Nellie would recognize and, I hope, love.

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