Growing up, the first snickerdoodles I remember eating were made by my Auntie Wilma, who brought them on our annual camping trip. My recollection of them are pale and thick, a little cakey, lightly crackled, a little tart and utterly addicting.
This formative experience greatly influenced what I look for in an ideal snickerdoodle (i.e. all of the above). In this bake off, I was curious to see if any of the recipes we tried would live up to my memory of those snickerdoodles, or if any would surpass my expectations. Let’s dive into the 12 snickerdoodles we tested!
- 31 total tasters
- All 12 recipes were baked fresh the day of and tasted at room temperature
- All tasters ranked each snickerdoodle on a scale from 0-10 for flavor, texture, and overall as a whole
- All snickerdoodles were baked on light-colored metal pans lined with parchment paper and the majority were rotated from the top to bottom rack if we baked multiple pans at the same time
- Bleached Gold Medal all-purpose flour
- Unsalted Land O Lakes butter
- McCormick cinnamon
- Adams cream of tartar
- Adams Best vanilla flavor
- Diamond kosher salt
- Kroger sugar
The Definition of a Snickerdoodle and How I Chose the Recipes
In my research of what constitutes a snickerdoodle, many sources declare that cream of tartar is the only thing that separates a snickerdoodle from a sugar cookie rolled in cinnamon sugar.
Cream of tartar serves three main purposes in snickerdoodles:
- Flavor: it provides that inimitable tang (some people identify it as a slight burn)
- Texture: it helps create a chewy texture as it prevents sugar from crystallizing
- Leavener: as an acidic ingredient, it reacts with baking soda to leaven the cookies (resulting in a similar effect of using just baking powder).
However, in her cookbook, Stella Park notes that the earliest snickerdoodle recipes call for baking powder, NOT cream of tartar as it was not a widespread pantry staple. Armed with this knowledge, I included several snickerdoodles that did not include cream of tartar. Sometimes you just don’t have it in your pantry, and it’s good to know that it’s not required!
As for choosing the other recipes, I used Smitten Kitchen as my “benchmark” recipe–the grand majority of recipes I scraped used approximately the same ingredients: 1 cup of butter, 1.5 cups sugar, 2 eggs, 2.75 cups flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. For variety’s sake, I chose several recipes that used shortening in addition to butter, several that used oils (coconut oil and vegetable oil), a few that used brown sugar, and a couple that used egg yolks.
Best Snickerdoodle Results
The most important thing to note, first off, is that I accidentally omitted 1/2 cup of sugar when making Smitten Kitchen (aka THE BENCHMARK RECIPE *facesmack*), so please ignore her ranking at the bottom. Those results are just not valid. Note that this recipe is identical to Martha Stewart (the winning cookie), except it uses 100% butter whereas Martha uses half butter, half shortening. By all universal rules of butter reigning as the supreme fat, it would make sense that, if made properly, Smitten should be the reigning cookie–I will have to retest the two head to head and report back.
Regarding the top-rated recipes, the top five ratings are all very close, to the point of a near tie. Here are some patterns that popped up in the rankings:
Interestingly, three out of the four top recipes use brown sugar (everyone except for Martha). Since brown sugar enhances moisture and lends extra flavor, it’s easy to see why this would have made a difference. The only other recipes that used brown sugar were Bon Appetit, which landed in 7th place (likely due to textural issues) and Dorie Greenspan in 9th place (likely due to spice/flavor issues).
The second and third place cookies are the only cookies that use egg yolks in addition to a whole egg. Generally, egg yolks help enhance chewiness and fudginess in cookies, though this article goes into greater details about other factors that can affect egg yolks. In both of the recipes that used egg yolks, the texture was noticeably moister and appreciated by most tasters.
I didn’t do an official ingredient composition chart for this post, but a casual inspection revealed that the recipes with a higher flour ratio tended to do better than those with less flour (like A Cozy Kitchen, and even recipes like Carole Walter and Bon Appetit). This is likely because most people (or my tasters, at least) tend to prefer a slightly plusher, thicker texture from a snickerdoodle whereas other types of cookies can do well as a flatter cookie. Interestingly, Carole Walter’s cookie is nearly identical to Martha Stewart in terms of ratios–the only difference is a 1/4 cup less flour (though Carole’s recipe is also chilled and baked at a lower temperature in smaller portions).
Analysis of Best Snickerdoodle Recipes
Note: I don’t include this in every post, but since I scraped so many similar recipes for this particular bake off, there is a section under each candidate noting other identical/similar recipes. This is mostly for reference in case you’ve made one of the other versions and know you already like it. For a more in-depth comparison, you can check out my Google Spreadsheet.
Smitten Kitchen: We have already established that the rankings for our benchmark cookie are sadly invalid (even though this cookies does look pretty great). I will say that they still turned out pretty great even with such a severe mishap–honestly, I would still eat these again. With 1/2 cup of sugar missing, this cookie is a mildly sweet, very cakey cookie that will please the cakiest cookie lovers (i.e. me).
A Cozy Kitchen: a soft, flat, slightly chewy cookie that veers off the traditional snickerdoodle path with warming chai spices
Adrianna’s chewy chai snickerdoodles came highly recommended by many people! Intriguingly, it uses butter, oil AND cream cheese in the dough, along with a plethora of spices (think cardamom, cloves, allspice, etc.). After mixing up the dough, we ended up with a wet and gooey dough that baked up into very large and flat cookies (although the recipe doesn’t specify chilling, Adrianna helped confirm via Instagram that you can definitely chill them for ~30 min if you prefer a less flat cookie). The resulting cookies were quite soft and chewy with lots of different spices that I think threw off a lot of tasters after eating so many plain, cinnamon-spiced snickerdoodles.
Tasters were split between appreciating the spice-forward flavors and not loving the non-traditional additions like ginger and cloves (“this is a pumpkin spice cookie trying to be a snickerdoodle. NO.”) Although people enjoyed the crunchier edges, many were turned off by the slightly dry texture and thinness (which can definitely be remedied by chilling the dough). If you’re looking for a unique addition to your cookie repertoire, I think this is a strong candidate–it’s definitely not a traditional snickerdoodle, but it’s a delicious cookie in it’s own right!
King Arthur Flour: tiny, airy, crumbly sugar cookies with just a hint of cinnamon
There were two notable things about this snickerdoodle recipe: it calls for bread flour (though you can sub regular flour if you like–we used KAF bread flour), and it was one of the few recipes that called for only baking powder as the leavener (i.e. no cream of tartar). It is otherwise a very standard snickerdoodle recipe, though it did call for one of the smallest cookie dough sizes we found (1″ diameter dough balls). We baked them to be on the softer side (around 9 minutes), with a slight crisp on the edges but a cakey middle. Aesthetically, it was one of the best and it tasted like a good sugar cookie, but texturally I felt it was too small to really satisy (need more center bites!) and it was missing the signature tang of a snickerdoodle.
Tasters generally marked this cookie down for being a bit dry, floury and crumbly. Some liked the airy texture, but most commented that there wasn’t a whole lot of flavor, spices or otherwise in this cookie. In both appearance (the very pale interior) and mild taste, it felt more like a sugar cookie rather than a snickerdoodle. If I made these again, I would make them bigger to see if that helps improve the texture.
Joe Yonan via Dorie Greenspan: thin and tender, slightly bready cookies spiked with cardamom and brown sugar
Someone recommended Dorie’s snickerdoodles to me, and I found this recipe from Joe Yonan on her blog. It caught my eye for its unusual use of cardamom (no cinnamon whatsoever!) and the use of 100% brown sugar (no white sugar!). Predictably, the brown sugar lent this cookie tons of moisture, resulting in a bendy, slightly bready yet very light cookie.
Tasters were split on this cookie. Those who liked the deeper molasses-y, spiced notes were a fan (“tasted more like a gingerbread cookie than a snickerdoodle”) while those looking for a traditional snickerdoodle found it lacking. “Lemon doesn’t go in snickerdoodles!” Exclaimed one taster–strangely, lots of tasters picked up on a mild citrus flavor from these cookies which I think came from the cardamom. There was also a significant tart presence from the cream of tartar, which may have contributed to the citrus comments. Similar to A Cozy Kitchen, I think this cookie fared less well because it veered away from the traditional snickerdoodle vibes, but it’s still a tasty cookie in its own right.
Carole Walter: a flat, airy, crunchy-edged snickerdoodle that is very sugar cookie-esque
This recipe is very similar to the winning Martha Stewart recipe–in terms of ingredient ratios, Carole’s recipe only differs in using 1/4 cup less flour and adds vanilla (according to the Pioneer Woman, vanilla mutes the tanginess of the cream of tartar, which is why some people purposefully omit vanilla from snickerdoodle recipes). Technique-wise, they also require an overnight rest, and an a lower oven temperature (350 rather than 400). Given all these variables, it’s impossible to say why Martha’s cookies performed so much better than Carole’s, but my hunch is that less flour made Carole’s cookies flatter (and thus less plush and appealing). Plus, a higher bake temp would help set the edges of the cookie faster, leading to a softer center–but a lower temperature means the cookie is more likely to be evenly cooked through, which is probably why these cookies ended up crispier. Overall, these cookies had a fine, airy, crunchy-edged texture with a surprisingly buttery flavor (even when using half shortening!).
Tastes liked the crunchy, somewhat crumbly texture of this cookie, but found it rather bland and on the drier side. “This cookie has a wonderful texture but otherwise just tastes like sugar cubes,” said one taster. “The butter overpowers the cinnamon,” noted another taster, and I have to agree–this was another cookie that tasted more sugar cookie than snickerdoodle to me.
Bon Appetit: a flat and soft, buttery snickerdoodle with rich brown sugar undertones
I selected Bon Appetit as one of three recipes that used brown sugar in the dough. Unlike Dorie, which used all brown sugar, this cookie used a combination of brown and white sugar, which gave it more of a caramelized, chocolate chip cookie flavor profile. With slightly less flour (2.5 cups vs. the standard 2.75 cups) and no required chill time, the dough was quite soft and gooey, baking up into slightly flatter cookies. I loved the flavor of these cookies (they’re one of my standout favorites), but wished the texture was a bit thicker and plusher. I may try re-making them with more flour.
Tasters liked the caramel, almost brown buttery notes in this cookie, but several commented that it was a bit dry and soft. “Buttery flavor but not a lot else. Mellow, not too sweet.” Many felt that it was a very mild cookie and fairly middle of the road–average, but not super memorable.
Note: we used 1 teaspoon of vanilla in this cookie rather than the vanilla bean, which is how I imagine most people will make this cookie.
Bravetart: a cinnamon-forward, dense, ultra-rich snickerdoodle with an almost cookie dough-like interior
As per usual, Stella Park’s recipe stood out as a unique recipe that relies on virgin coconut oil for fat in addition to butter, as well as no cream of tartar. If you recall in the sugar cookie bake off, Stella’s cookie won second place in spite of a divisive coconut flavor (the recipe calls for refined coconut oil). I had hopes that using virgin coconut oil rather than refined coconut oil would resolve any coconut issues in her snickerdoodle–however, I could still detect the coconut flavor, as could others, which I didn’t love. (Someone suggested that I need to buy REFINED virgin coconut oil for a true no-coconut flavor). However, the dense, fudgy center of these cookies in combination wtih the generous heaping of cinnamon sugar on top (I would recommend not piling QUITE as much cinnamon sugar on top as I did for a more balanced aesthetic) was quite delicious. If you love cinnamon and coconut, this cookie is for you!
Interestingly, not all tasters picked up on the coconut flavor (of those who did, some liked how the coconut notes paired with cinnamon while a couple commented that the aftertaste tasted a bit like sunscreen). But nearly all tasters commented positively on the soft, dense, Loft House-esque texture and the heavy cinnamon notes. Most liked the “cinnamon bomb” flavor, though some commented that it felt like the flavor was too prominent on the top and not balanced.
Sally’s Baking Addiction: a thick and soft, mildly spiced snickerdoodle
Sally’s recipe promises soft and thick snickerdoodles and these hit the nail on the head. Her butter-based snickerdoodles have a very standard ingredient list, but the thing that sets it apart is a lower egg ratio–this lowers the overall moisture content, resulting in a thicker, doughier cookie. It was by far one of the thickest cookies with good buttery flavor, light on the cinnamon.
Most tasters loved the spice level in this cookie as well as the contrast of the crunchy exterior and softer interior–a perfect, slightly doughy texture. “Tastes like cinnamon toast crunch milk,” said one. “Tastes like a mall cookie,” said another, which speaks to the chunky, soft perfection of the interior and light spice level. The main critique for this cookie was that it was a bit dry–although delightfully puffy, the flipside of all the volume is that the inside is a bit cakey.
I Heart Naptime: a puffy, brown sugar base with a slightly chewy, thick texture
This recipe was also chosen as a brown sugar candidate and is very similar to Bon Appetit, except that it has the addition of baking powder, 1/2 cup more flour, and slightly more brown sugar. These additions actually make quite the difference–the dough was much firmer and easier to work with, baking up into nicely chewy, thicker cookies with a slightly fudgy bite. The brown sugar gives both cookies a more standard chocolate chip cookie base flavor rather than a straight up sugar cookie–not one for traditionalists, but still delicious.
Tasters widely praised the texture of this cookie–soft and moist, with a doughy center. The buttery, creamy flavor of this cookie was also widely noted to be “almost shortbread-like in terms of taste,” though some marked it down for not having enough spice flavor and being a little too sweet. “Sugar heavy flavor” said one. Still, for a “fantastic texture and buttery flavor with a hint of cinnamon,” this is your cookie.
Ambitious Kitchen: a non-traditional, brown butter, intensely rich and chewy snickerdoodle
Ambitious Kitchen was one of two recipes to use an extra egg yolk, but what really set this recipe apart is the use of brown butter. Sure enough, most tasters picked up on the toasty, burnished flavor of the brown butter in these dense, rich and fudgy cookies. The crumb is supremely moist yet chewy, and the flavor is hugely buttery flavor with hints of cinnamon worked into the dough. Overall, the taste is truly decadent is very offbeat compared to a traditional snickerdoodle–but if you’re looking for something new, this is a very good option!
Tasters definitely picked up on the brown butter in this cookie–some appreciated the nutty, deep caramelly flavor while others thought it was too different and didn’t really taste like a snickerdoodle (some thought it could use more cinnamon). Although people liked the chewy texture, the biggest critique around this cookie was that it was too flat.
Similar to: Cookies and Cups (but no brown butter)
Live Well Bake Often: a chewy and thick brown sugar-studded snickerdoodle
The other recipe besides Ambitious Kitchen to use an extra egg yolk, this recipe was pretty much a standard snickerdoodle recipe plus an egg yolk, a little extra flour, some brown sugar, and cinnamon in the dough. This cookie reminded me of the pillowy Tiff’s Treats style cookies–again, way more flavor and chewy texture than the average sugar cookie. For me, this wasn’t quite my ideal snickerdoodle because of the chewiness (I look for a more cakey snickerdoodle), but it is technically a very good cookie–like some of the other brown sugar snickerdoodles, I could see it working well as a chocolate chip cookie base (if you omit the cinnamon).
Tasters raved about the balance of spices and soft (but not gooey) texture–“best texture, best flavor,” said one. Despite a noticeable tang from the cream of tartar, many commented that this still had a great, well-balanced aftertaste of sugar and spice. Although I think the brown sugar may have detracted from the classic snickerdoodle taste, the inclusion of cinnamon in the dough helped tip the scales back towards a cinnamon-forward snickerdoodle.
Similar to: Preppy Kitchen
Martha Stewart: the quintessential snickerdoodle with a light and airy texture and tart yet mild flavor
I’m guessing that many people have tried some iteration of this recipe–this is shortening version of my “benchmark” recipe. I would have loved to compare this to the the all-butter benchmark aka Smitten Kitchen, but as we’ve already established, I messed up that recipe during testing. These cookies are soft and a little crumbly and slightly bendy with an airy, fluffy texture that compresses as you chew. There’s a slight cream of tartar burn but overall a good balance of bland, slightly cakey sweetness from the interior and a slightly crispier cinnamon-sugar-encrusted exterior–it basically tastes like what I expect from a snickerdoodle.
Interestingly, tasters noted not only the aesthetics of this cookie (one of the prettiest) but also the fact that the cinnamon-sugar coating complimented the softer texture of the cookie. Tasters also liked that the flavor of this snickerdoodle was well-balanced, with less of an acidic bite at the end. Some liked the softer, slightly cakey texture while one noted that it was “neither soft or crunchy. Not into the in between.” Overall, tasters either thought this cookie was average and fine, or thought that it was pleasingly balanced. This was clearly the crowd-pleasing cookie–very few found it offensive, and it really lives up to the average expectation of a snickerdoodle.
A Few Tips on Making The Best Snickerdoodles
- All butter will give the riches flavor, but some shortening can help add a crispy bite
- To avoid wasting extra cinnamon sugar, the average recipe only needs about 2 tablespoons of sugar (plus cinnamon) to roll each of the cookie balls
- Higher oven temps (like 400 degrees) help achieve a crackly look (this higher temp will help cookies puff up and fall down)
- Lower oven temps (like 350 degrees) help create a more evenly baked cookie
- For a doughy cookie, remove when set around the edges but barely set in the middle
Best Snickerdoodle Recipes
For those looking for the snapshot summary of my overall favorites:
- Best traditional snickerdoodle: Martha Stewart or Smitten Kitchen
- Best chewy snickerdoodle: Live Well Bake Often or I Heart Naptime
- Best crispy snickerdoodle: Carol Walter
- Best doughy snickerdoodle: Ambitious Kitchen or Bravetart
- Best thick and soft snickerdoodle: Sally’s Baking Addiction
- Best flavored (but flat) snickerdoodle: Bon Appetit
- Best cakey snickerdoodle: Smitten Kitchen (if made without 1/2 cup sugar)
As always, tag me on Instagram if you try any of these cookies and hashtag #pancakeprincess bake off!