Big Little Recipes

This Cinnamon-Sugar Shortbread Has Everything We Want in a Cookie

October  8, 2019

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.”

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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I have tried this type of shortbread recipe with white whole wheat flour and get excellent results as well--a little nuttier and crisper, but equally delicious and toothsome. Thanks. Now for pumpkin spice.....”
— judy

Let’s change that.

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.

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.

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 8x8-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.

This post contains products that are independently selected by our editors, and Food52 may earn an affiliate commission. What’s your favorite cookie right now? Tell us in the comments!
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • lisa
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    Shayna Cassels
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    Scottie Belden
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in November 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


lisa November 7, 2019
Please don't call it Snickerdoodle when it doesn't contain Cream of Tartar. It's what gives Snickerdoodles the distinctive flavor.
pvanhagenlcsw November 7, 2019
Anything Emma recommends makes it on to my to bake list. I am not sure I can wait to try these until my granddaughter is with me but I will try.
Author Comment
Emma L. November 7, 2019
That's so nice to hear, thank you!
Shayna C. October 16, 2019
Delicious! Made this for my husband to have with coffee before work and we both love it! And it came together in minutes which was very helpful to me as the mom of a 5 month old. Will definitely be making this again.
Author Comment
Emma L. October 16, 2019
Thanks, Shayna—so glad you and your husband love the recipe!
judy October 10, 2019
Love shortbread. And I like this recipe. I prefer mine made with sugar over cornstarch or powdered sugar. Anyway. I flavor this with ginger and ginger pieces stirred in as I like big flavor of ginger. I have tried this type of shortbread recipe with white whole wheat flour and get excellent results as well--a little nuttier and crisper, but equally delicious and toothsome. Thanks. Now for pumpkin spice.....
Author Comment
Emma L. October 10, 2019
Mmmm I love ginger!
Scottie B. October 9, 2019
Why must I allow them to cool completely? I’ve never been able to exercise this level of restraint. Please tell me that digging right in won’t hurt anybody.
Author Comment
Emma L. October 9, 2019
I believe in you! It's all about the texture. While a chocolate chip cookie thrives on being warm and gooey, shortbread's ideal texture (tender! sandy! crumbly!) is at its very best when completely cool.